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THIS essay is meant to be read in connection with 

^ the facts and arguments adduced in my book of 

2c last year, " War and the Arme Blanche," with its 

Introduction by Field-Marshal Lord Roberts. 

From the nature of the case I have not been able 

fi to avoid a small measure of repetition, but I have 

_ done my best to confine myself to new ground. 

^ A word about my object in writing again. 

Contemporaneously with the publication of " War 

^. and the Arme Blanche,"" General von Bernhardi 

* published in Germany his " Reiterdienst," and 

o= an English edition, translated by Major G. T. M. 

Bridges, D.S.O., under the title " Cavalry in War 

and Peace," appeared simultaneously in this 

country. Like its predecessor, " Unsere Kaval- 

lerie im nachsten Kriege " (translated under the 

title " Cavalry in Future Wars "), this new book 

by General von Bernhardi was headed with a 




highly laudatory Preface from the pen of General 
Sir John French, who commended it to military 
students in this country as a brilliant and authori- 
tative treatise on the employment of Cavalry in 
modern war. It was included in the valuable 
" Pall Mall Series " of military books, published 
by Hugh Bees and Co. ; and, in short, unless the 
critical faculties and native common-sense of 
Englishmen can be aroused, it is likely to become 
a standard work. There exists, be it remembered, 
no similar work, modern and authoritative, by a 
British author. 

My object in this essay is to arouse those 
critical faculties and that common-sense. With- 
out any disrespect to General von Bernhardi, who 
writes, not for Englishmen, but, as a German 
reformer, for what he regards as an exceptionally 
backward Cavalry, I wish to show, not only that 
we have nothing to learn even from him in the 
matter of Cavalry combat, but that, if we only 
have the pluck and independence to break off the 
demoralizing habit of imitating foreign models, 
and to build on our own war experience and our 
own racial aptitudes, we have the power of 
creating a Cavalry incomparably superior in 
quality to any Continental Cavalry. 


The indispensable condition precedent to that 
revival is to sweep away root and branch the 
tactical system founded on the lance and sword, 
and to create a new system founded on the rifle. 

I shall endeavour to show, using von Bernhardi's 
" Reiterdienst," with Sir John French's Intro- 
duction, and our own official Manuals, as my text, 
that in the matter of modern Cavalry warfare no 
principles worthy of the name exist among profes- 
sional men. The whole subject is in a state of 
chaos, to which, I believe, there is no parallel in all 
the arts of war and peace. And the cause of that 
chaos is the retention in theory of a form of combat 
which is in flagrant contradiction with the condi- 
tions exacted by modern fire-arms, and is utterly 
discredited by the facts of modern war. 

The excellence of the translation furnished by 
Major Bridges has made it unnecessary for me to 
introduce into this essay the various terms and 
phrases used in the original German text. After 
a study of that text, I am satisfied, if Major 
Bridges will permit me to say so, that, obscure as 
the author's exposition often is, no part of the 
obscurity is due to the translator. I have not 
found a technical term of which he has not given 
the correct English equivalent, or a passage where 


he has not accurately interpreted the original 

Let me add that I have been encouraged 
further to write this essay by the keen and 
instructive controversy which followed the publi- 
cation of my book of last year. Incidentally I 
have taken the opportunity hi this volume to 
reply to some of the criticisms against its prede- 
cessor, and to clear up some points which I think 

were not fully understood. 

E. C. 

March, 1911. 
















I. GERMAN VIEWS - - 103 



I. GERMAN VIEWS - - 133 






I. WEAPONS - 163 



IV. SCREENS - - 173 


AFRICA - - - 186 



X. THE MORAL ..... 214 




IMPARTIAL observers of the recent controversy 
upon the merits of the lance and sword as weapons 
for Cavalry must have been struck by one singular 
circumstance namely, that there exists in our 
language no standard modern work upon the 
tactics and training of Cavalry in modern war, 
written by a Cavalryman, accepted by Cavalry- 
men, and embodying and illustrating the lessons 
of the two great modern wars waged since the 
invention of the long-range, smokeless magazine 
rifle. Without such a work, controversy is seri- 
ously hampered. The need for it is beyond 

Whatever the extent of the revolution brought 
about by the magazine rifle, a revolution, by 



universal admission, there is. Since 1901 a serious 
firearm has been substituted for the old carbine 
formerly carried by the Cavalry, and the Cavalry 
Manual has been rewritten, with increased stress 
on the importance of fire. It is also the fact that, 
from whatever causes, the lance and sword have 
proved, both in South Africa and Manchuria, 
almost innocuous weapons. These facts demand, 
to say the least, serious recognition from those 
who still hold that the lance and sword are the 
most important weapons of Cavalry. Angry 
letters to the daily press, desultory and super- 
ficial articles in the weekly and monthly press, 
are not enough. What is wanted is some com- 
prehensive and authoritative exposition of what 
Cavalry functions are in modern war, how they 
have been modified by the firearm, and why, 
with chapter and verse, not by way of vague 
allegation, the only great wars hi which that fire- 
arm has been tested are to be regarded as " ab- 
normal " and uninstructive. 

For illumination and confirmation on these 
matters, we are constantly referred, in defence 
of the lance and sword, by our own Cavalry 
authorities to foreign countries whose armies 
have had no experience at all of modern civilized 
war as revolutionized by the modern magazine 
rifle. We are referred, above all, to Germany, 


and, in particular, to the works of a German 
officer, General von Bernhardi, who (1) writes 
exclusively for the German Cavalry, without the 
most distant reference to our own ; (2) whose own 
war experience dates from 1870, when he fought 
as a Lieutenant, and who has not seen the modern 
rifle used hi civilized war ; (3) who believes that 
no wars, ancient or modern, except the American 
Civil War of 1861-1865, afford an analogy to 
modern conditions, and that the modern Cavalry- 
man must base his practice on "speculative and 
theoretical reflection " ; (4) who states that the 
German Cavalry, owing to indifference to the revo- 
lution wrought by the modern firearm, and excessive 
adherence to " old-fashioned knightly combats," 
is at this moment wholly unprepared for war 
and is trained on Regulations which, though quite 
recently revised, he makes the subject of stinging 
and sustained ridicule ; (5) who is so ignorant of 
the technique of fire-action by mounted troops 
that he renders it, unconsciously, more ridiculous 
even than shock-action ; and (6) who firmly 
believes in the lance and sword, and in the shock- 
charge as practised " in the times of Frederick the 
Great and Napoleon." 

In this strange list of qualifications the reader 
will see the makings of a pretty paradox. And a 
pretty paradox it is, a bewildering, incompre- 


hensible paradox ; not so much, indeed, that a 
German author, born and bred hi a German 
atmosphere, should be so saturated with obsolete 
German traditions that even in the act of de- 
nouncing them he can subscribe to them, but that 
British Cavalrymen, headed by Sir John French, 
our foremost Cavalry authority, men who have 
had three years' experience of war with the 
modern magazine rifle, who have seen the arme 
blanche fail and the rifle dominate tactics, and 
who, eight years before the German Cavalry even 
stirred in its sleep, acquiesced in changes in 
Cavalry armament and training directly based on 
that experience that these men should acclaim 
the works of the aforesaid German author as the 
last word of wisdom on the tactics and training 
of modern Cavalry, and represent them as such 
to young British Cavalrymen, is a circumstance 
which almost passes belief. 

Still, it is a fortunate circumstance. We have 
a body of doctrine to grapple with and controvert. 
If we succeed in dissipating the myth of German 
superior intelligence on Cavalry matters, we go a 
long way towards dissipating the whole of the 
arme blanche myth, which hi the opinion of our 
greatest living soldier, Lord Roberts an opinion 
founded on lifelong experience of war is as mis- 
chievous a superstition as ever fettered a mounted 


military force. The whole of the material is here 
and it is unexceptionable material for contro- 
versy for Sir John French himself contributes 
his own views on the subject in the form of lauda- 
tory Introductions to both of General von Bern- 
hardi's works. 

I propose in the following pages (1) to criticize 
General Sir John French's views, so expressed ; 
(2) to analyze and criticize General von Bern- 
hardi's recently published work, " Cavalry hi 
War and Peace," and to contrast his teaching 
with that of our own Service Manuals ; (3) to try 
to show that each General refutes himself, that 
both refute one another, and that Sir John 
French is, by a strange irony, far more reactionary 
than the German officer to whom he directs us 
for " progressive " wisdom ; (4) to expose the 
backwardness and confusion in every department 
of Cavalry thought, here and in Germany, as a 
direct consequence of the attempt to found a 
tactical system upon obsolete weapons ; and (5) 
incidentally to put forward what I venture to 
suggest is true doctrine. 

This doctrine, briefly, is that the modern 
Cavalry soldier is, for practical purposes, repre- 
sented by three factors man, horse, and rifle 
and that it is only by regarding him strictly and 
constantly as a mounted, that is to say, an 


especially mobile, rifleman, as distinguished from 
the less mobile foot-rifleman, that we can estab- 
lish his war functions on a simple, sound, and 
logical basis. I ask the reader to hold that clue 
firmly as a guide through the perplexities and 
obscurities of the topic and the obsolete termin- 
ology and phraseology which not only disturb 
reasoning but distort and enfeeble practice. 

At the outset let the reader grasp the following 
historical facts as to the efficacy of swords and 
lances in civilized war : 

1. Franco-German War of 1870-71 : Six Germans 
killed and 218 wounded by the sabre and clubbed 
musket counted together. No separate figures for 
the lance. [Total German casualties from all 
weapons, 65,160.]* 

2. South African War, 1899-1902 : No statistics 
as to death. About fifty Boer casualties through 
lance and sword together, and about fifty more 
prisoners taken. [Total Boer and British deaths, 
and wounds from all weapons, about 40,000.] 

3. Russo-Japanese War, 1904-05 : No exact 
figures, but apparently not more than fifty 
casualties from lance and sword together. [Total 
casualties in action, over 400,000.] 

* Report of German Medical Staff. No French figures 



Two works by General von Bernhardi have 
been translated into English, and widely circu- 
lated among our military men. I propose to say 
but little about the first, " Cavalry in Future 
Wars," because I have already endeavoured to 
criticize it hi detail hi my own book, " War and 
the Arme Blanche." It is the second work, 
" Cavalry hi War and Peace," published only hi 
1910, that I wish to make the basis of discussion 
hi this volume ; but hi order to explain the 
history of German influence on British Cavalry, 
it is necessary to recall briefly certain features of 
its predecessor. 

" Cavalry hi Future Wars " was first published 
hi German hi 1899, before the Boer War broke 
out. There was a second edition hi 1902, when 
the Boer War was drawing to a close, and this 
second edition, headed by General French's Intro- 
duction, was translated and published hi England 
hi 1906. It was a strange work, strangely spon- 
sored. The keynote was fire-action for Cavalry, 
the moral drawn by the English sponsor shock- 
action for Cavalry. The chapters on fire-action, 
urging the adoption of a firearm even better than 
the Infantry rifle hi substitution for a mere pop- 
gun, formed hi themselves a complete refutation 


of shock ; while the chapters on shock, so illogical 
and self-contradictory was the method of ex- 
position, formed an equally complete refutation 
of fire-action. 

It is true that the spirit of fire predominated, 
that fire was the General's message to his lethargic 
brother-officers, but the message was so strangely 
expounded that it is no wonder that for ten 
years they turned a deaf ear to it. Instead of 
telling them at the outset that if they themselves 
adopted a good firearm, and learnt to use it pro- 
perly, they would immensely enhance the value 
of Cavalry for all the purposes of war, he opened 
his argument with a melancholy dirge over 
the departed glories of the Cavalry owing to 
the adoption by other classes of troops of the 
deadly modern firearm. They must recognize, 
he told them, that they had been " driven out of 
their place of honour on the battlefields of the 
plains "; that they could henceforward only 
attack Infantry who were already so shattered 
and demoralized by the fire of other Infantry as 
to have reached the point of throwing away their 
arms, and much more in the same sense. Never 
was such a tactless prophet ! And the pity of it 
was that he did not really mean all he said. 
What he meant was that the ancient glories of 
the arme blanche, when pitted against the fire- 


arm, were gone past recall a circumstance 
scarcely worth an elegy, one would imagine, 
from a scientific soldier. War is business, not 
romance, and if the same or better results can 
be produced by an intelligent and dashing use of 
the firearm, it is waste of breath to lament the 
decay of the lance and sword. It was the main 
purpose of the General's work to prove that these 
results could be so obtained, and whenever he 
warmed to his subject, and fell into temporary 
oblivion of the romantic weapons, he proved his 
point well enough, in theory. 

But, unfortunately, his oblivion of the lance 
and sword lasted only as long as he was criticizing 
the action of Cavalry against troops not armed 
with those weapons. When he came to the 
action of Cavalry against Cavalry, both by hypo- 
thesis armed, not only with the lance and sword, 
but also with the best modern rifle obtainable, 
the principle he had just established namely, 
that the rifle imposes tactics on the steel dis- 
appeared, and the opposite principle -that the 
steel imposes tactics upon the rifle took its 
place. I say " principle," but hi this latter case 
no reasoned principle based on the facts of war 
was expounded, because it seemed never to 
occur to the General that Cavalry in combat with 
Cavalry would have the bad taste to use their rifles. 


Needless to say, it was impossible to sustain 
this daring paradox with any semblance of logic 
and consistency throughout a book dealing with 
all the phases of war. War is not a matter of 
definitions, but of bullets and shells. And, in 
fact, the General threw logic and consistency to 
the winds. In his fire - mood he unconsciously 
covered shock-tactics with ridicule, but in his 
shock-mood (no doubt, much to the relief of the 
victims of his wrathful invective in Germany) 
he conclusively demolished the principle of 

This was easily explicable. In the first place, 
the General was a German writing exclusively 
to Germans, to whom the bare idea of relying on 
the prosaic firearm seemed sacrilegious. Merely 
to implant that idea in their heads, to persuade 
them that the rest of the world was moving 
while they were asleep, was a vast enough aim 
for a German reformer too vast an aim, indeed, 
as the event proved. In the second place, the 
General, so far as the effect of modern fire- 
arms was concerned, was working wholly in the 
realm of theory. When he first published his 
book those weapons had not been tested in 
civilized war. The most recent relevant war 
experience was that of 1870 and of the other 
European wars of that period, when the fire- 


arm was exceedingly imperfect. But even then, 
as he frankly and forcibly stated, it was in con- 
sequence of their neglect of this firearm, imperfect 
as it was, that the European Cavalry, the Ger- 
man Cavalry included, gave such a painfully poor 
account of themselves. He looked farther back, 
just as Colonel Henderson and many other critics 
in our own country looked back, to the brilliant 
achievements of American Cavalry in the Civil 
War of 1861-1865, mainly through the agency of 
the firearm. But here the firearm was still more 
primitive a fact of which General von Bernhardi 
took no account. It was enough for him that 
inter-Cavalry shock survived through the Civil 
War, though the steel came to be wholly in- 
effective against Infantry. That forty years of 
scientific progress might have produced a weapon 
which would have banished shock in any form 
did not occur to him. 

Nevertheless, there seemed to be good ground 
for the hope that, when he came seriously to 
collate and examine the phenomena of the first 
great wars since the invention of the modern 
rifle those in South Africa and Manchuria he 
would find in the exact confirmation of his views 
on fire, and in the complete falsification of his 
views on shock, ground for a drastic revision of 
his whole work, with a view, not perhaps to a 


complete elimination of the steel weapons, but to 
their complete subordination to the rifle. It is 
true that the omens were not very favourable. 

Between 1899 and 1902, when his second 
edition was published, a great mass of South 
African information became available, not in 
finished historical form, but in a form quite suit- 
able for furnishing numberless instructive exam- 
ples of the paramount influence of fire and the 
futility of the lance and sword. But the General 
made no use of these examples. He confined 
himself to a general allusion to the " very im- 
portant data obtained in South Africa as to the 
employment of dismounted action by Cavalry " 
(p. 7), and in a later passage (p. 56) to some com- 
mendatory remarks on the " brilliant results " 
obtained through mounted charges made with 
the rifle only by the Boers in the latter part of 
the war. Unfortunately, it was plain that he 
had given no close technical study either to these 
charges or to the " important data " vaguely 
alluded to ; otherwise he would have saved him- 
self from many of the solecisms which abound in 
his work. Still, the fact remained that the war 
was unfinished when his second edition was 
published, while another great war broke out 
only two years later. It seemed not unlikely 
that mature reflection upon the incidents of these 


wars would ultimately tend to clarify and har- 
monize his views on shock and fire. 

Meanwhile the English edition was published, 
with its Introduction by General Sir John 
French. By this time (1906) the events of our 
own war were fully collated and recorded, while 
the Manchurian War had also taken place. 
Instead of supplying a really useful commentary 
upon the German work, written from the point 
of view of British experience, instead of drawing 
attention to its deficiencies and errors, and point- 
ing out how inevitable they were under the 
circumstances of its composition, General French 
hailed the work as a complete, final, and un- 
answerable statement of Cavalry doctrine. Von 
Bernhardi, he said, " had dealt with remarkable 
perspicuity and telling conviction and in an ex- 
haustive manner with every subject demanding 
a Cavalry soldier's study and thought." How 
Sir John French's readers reconciled this effusive 
eulogy with the contents of the book remains a 
mystery. As I have said, the only really im- 
portant feature of the book was the insistent 
advocacy of fire-tactics and not merely defensive, 
but offensive fire-tactics for Cavalry. This fea- 
ture was minimized in the Introduction. In 
its place was a vehement attack on the advocates 
of fire-tactics in England, the truth of whose 


principles had just been signally demonstrated 
in our own war. 

There was not a word about the " important 
data " to be derived from the war ; not a word 
about the Boer charges, of whose terribly de- 
structive effects Sir John French knew far more 
than General von Bernhardi. On the contrary, 
the war was dismissed in a few slighting and 
ambiguous sentences, as wholly irrelevant to the 
arme blanche controversy, in spite of the fact that, 
in direct consequence of the war, our Cavalry 
Manual had been rewritten and the Cavalry 
fire-arm immensely improved facts which would 
naturally suggest that the war had been in- 

Praise of Von Bernhardi, singular as the form it 
took, was by no means academic. In the next 
revision of our Cavalry Manual (1907) the com- 
pilers borrowed and quoted considerably from 
" Cavalry in Future Wars." And yet every 
sound principle in that work had years before been 
anticipated and expounded far more lucidly and 
thoroughly in the fascinating pages of our own 
military writer, Colonel Henderson, whose teach- 
ing had been ignored by the Cavalry of his own 



So the matter stood until, early in 1910, General 
von Bernhardi produced his second work, 
" Cavalry in War and Peace." An admirable 
English translation by Major G. T. M. Bridges 
promptly appeared, again with an Introduction 
by Sir John French. 

It must, one might surmise, have given him 
some embarrassment to pen this second eulogy. 
The previous book had been "perspicuous," 
" logical," " intelligent," and, above all, " exhaus- 
tive and complete." Two wars, it is true, had 
intervened, but neither, according either to Sir 
John French or, we may say at once, to General 
von Bernhardi, was of any interest to Cavalry. 
What fresh matter, either for German exposition 
or for British eulogy, could there be ? That is 
one of the questions I shall have to elucidate, 
and I may say here that the only new fact for 
General von Bernhardi is the recent promulga- 



tion of a revised set of Regulations for the 
German Cavalry, Regulations which, in his 
opinion, though "better than the old ones," are 
still almost as mischievous, antiquated, and 
" unsuitable for war " as they can possibly 
be, and whose effect is to leave the German 
Cavalry " unprepared for war." But this is 
not a new fact which could properly strengthen 
Sir John French in recommending the German 
author to the British Cavalry as a brilliantly 
logical advocate of the lance and sword, and 
it is not surprising, therefore, that the tone of 
his second introduction is slightly different from 
that of the first. 

For the first time there appears a refer- 
ence to the German Cavalry Regulations, from 
which the English reader would gain an inkling 
of the fact that General von Bernhardi is not a 
prophet in his own country, and that all is not 
harmony and enlightenment among the " pro- 
pressive " Cavalry schools of Europe. On one 
specific point raids Sir John French " ven- 
tures to disagree " with General von Bernhardi, 
and he writes, also in quite general terms, that 
he does not " approve of all that the German 
Regulations say about the employment of Cavalry 
in battle." But even this latter note of criticism 
is very faint and deprecatory ; nor is there 


anything to show that the writer, except on 
the one point mentioned, is not thoroughly at 
one with the German author's principles. The 
main purpose of this Introduction, as of the 
earlier one, is to claim that Bernhardi's book 
is a triumphant justification of the lance and 
sword. It is a " tonic for weak minds," an 
antidote against the " dangerous heresies " of the 
English advocates of the mounted rifleman, 
whose " appeals from ignorance to vanity " 
deserved scornful repudiation. 

Once more, and in warmer language than ever, 
the General protests against the pernicious ten- 
dency to attach value to the lessons of South 
Africa ; but this time, fortunately, he gives some 
specific reasons for regarding the war as " ab- 
normal," and I shall devote the rest of this 
chapter to an examination of these reasons. 

They are four: (l)That the " Boer commandos 
dispersed to the four winds when pressed, and 
reunited again some days or weeks later hundreds 
of miles from the scene of their last encounter." 
This curious little summary of the war shows to 
what almost incredible lengths of self-delusion a 
belief in the arme blanche will carry otherwise 
well-balanced minds minds, too, of active, able 
men like Sir John French, who have actually 
been immersed in the events under discussion. 



One fails at first to see the smallest causal rela- 
tion between the phenomena of the war as he 
sets them forth and the combat value of the 
lance and sword, but the implied argument 
must be this : that these weapons could not be 
given a fair trial in combat because there was no 
combat, or, rather, only combat enough to cause 
the hundred casualties and prisoners for which, 
by the recorded facts, the lance and sword were 

We figure a bloodless war, in which at the 
mere glimpse of a khaki uniform the enemy fled 
for " hundreds of miles " at such lightning speed, 
moreover, that one of the chief traditional 
functions of the arme blanche, pursuit, was wholly 
in abeyance. Who would gather that there had 
been a " black week "; that Botha and Meyer 
held the Tugela heights for four months against 
forces between three and four times their superior 
hi strength ; that Ladysmith (where there were 
four Cavalry regiments) was besieged for four 
months, Kimberley for the same period, and 
Mafeking for seven months ; that for at least 
nine months no " dispersion " took place even 
remotely resembling that vaguely sketched by 
Sir John French ; and that during the whole 
course of the war no tactical dispersion took 
place which would conceivably affect the efficacy 


of the lance and sword as weapons of combat ? 
A mere statement of the fact that the net rate of 
Boer retreat, even during the purely partisan 
warfare of 1901-02, was almost invariably that 
of ox-waggons (two miles an hour on the average), 
that until the last year of the war the Boers were 
generally accompanied by artillery, and that 
from the beginning of the war to the end not a 
single waggon or a single gun was ever captured 
through the agency, direct or indirect, of the 
lance and sword, shatters the hypothesis that 
these weapons had any appreciable combat value. 

But that is only the negative side of the argu- 
ment. We have to deal with a mass of plain, 
positive facts in favour of the rifle as an aggres- 
sive weapon for mounted troops. The Boer rifle 
caused us 29,000 casualties, over 40 guns and 
10,000 men taken in action-r-losses which, to say 
the least, are evidence that some stiff fighting took 
place ; for men who, when " pressed," run for 
" hundreds of miles " cannot take prisoners and 

We have before us the details of some hundreds 
of combats, in which Cavalry as well as other 
classes of troops were engaged, and the only 
effective way of testing the value of the steel 
weapons is to see what actually happened in these 
combats. The result of this inquiry is to show 


that the lance and sword were practically useless 
both in attack and defence, whatever the relative 
numbers and whatever the nature of the ground. 
No serious historian has ever attempted to make 
out any case to the contrary. No responsible 
man at the time would have ventured publicly 
to assert the contrary. It was patent to every- 
body leaders and men that the Boers were 
formidable because they were good mounted 
riflemen, and that our bitter need was for mounted 
riflemen as good as theirs. It is only when years 
of peace have drugged the memory and obliterated 
the significance of these events melancholy and 
terrible events some of them that it is possible 
to put forward the audacious claim that the lance 
and sword had no chance of proving their value 
because the Boers hi variably ran away from them. 
It must be evident that if this first reason for 
the failure of the lance and sword given by Sir 
John French is valid, it would be needless to 
proffer any others. And the others he does 
proffer only demonstrate further the weakness 
of his case. " Secondly," he says, " the war 
in South Africa was one for the conquest and 
annexation of immense districts, and no settle- 
ment was open to us except the complete sub- 
mission of our gallant enemy." Such a cam- 
paign, he goes on to say, " is the most difficult 


that can be confided to an army," etc. Per- 
fectly true we agree ; but what bearing has this 
obvious truth on the combat value of the lance 
and sword ? 

The issue before us is this : Is a certain mode of 
fighting possible in modern days ? Is it practic- 
able for men to remain in their saddles and wield 
steel weapons against men armed with modern 
rifles ? " No," answers Sir John French, " it is 
not practicable, if your aim is annexation and 
the complete submission of a gallant enemy." 
Poor consolation for the unhappy taxpayer who 
pays for the maintenance of exceedingly expen- 
sive mounted troops, and commits himself to a 
scheme of conquest and annexation in the faith 
that these troops are efficient instruments of his 
will ! Where would Sir John French's argu- 
ment lead him, if he only followed it up and sup- 
plied the missing links ? But that is the worst 
of this interminable controversy. Such nebulous 
arguments never are worked out in terms of 
actual combat on the battle-field. 

Thirdly, says Sir John French, the horses were 
at fault. " We did not possess any means for 
remounting our Cavalry with trained horses. ..." 
" After the capture, in rear of the army, of the 
great convoy by De Wet, our horses were on 
short commons, and consequently lost condition, 


and never completely recovered it." This is an 
old argument, expressed in the old vague, mis- 
leading way. The war lasted nearly three years, 
beginning in October, 1899. The period referred 
to by Sir John French was in February, 1900. 
Long before this, when there was no complaint 
about the horses, the futility of the lance and 
sword, and the grave disabilities under which the 
Cavalry laboured owing to their inadequate 
carbine, had been abundantly manifest. The 
steel weapons may be said to have been obsolete 
after Elandslaagte, on the second day of the war. 
At the particular period referred to by Sir John 
French the period of the operations against 
Cronje and Kimberley heat and drought did 
undoubtedly play havoc with all the horses in 
both armies, with those not only of the Cavalry, 
but of the mounted riflemen and Artillery on 
both sides. In February, 1900, a third of 
Cronje's small force was on foot, a pretty severe 
disability, since his whole force was scarcely equal 
to our Cavalry division alone, with its gunners 
and mounted riflemen included, while it was 
less than a quarter as strong as the whole army 
at the disposal of Lord Roberts. Sir John French 
makes use of a misleading expression when he 
says that " the Cavalry horses lost condition, and 
never completely recovered it." Nine-tenths of 


the horses here referred to succumbed altogether 
within a few months, and the Cavalry, like nearly 
all the mounted troops engaged in the operations in 
question, were completely remounted in June, for 
the grand advance from Bloemfontein to Pretoria. 

During the succeeding two years of warfare all 
the mounted troops, Cavalry included, were 
several times remounted. So were the Boer 
troops, who, of course, had no remount organiza- 
tion at all for "trained " or untrained horses, and 
had to be content with anything they could pick 
up on the veldt. Yet, besides imposing fire- 
tactics on the Cavalry in every type of combat 
alike, they invaded the traditional sphere of 
Cavalry (and were imitated to some extent by 
our own Colonials and Mounted Infantry) by 
developing on their own account a most for- 
midable type of mounted charge, which during 
the last year of the war alone cost us 18 guns 
and 2,500 men killed, wounded, and prisoners. 
These charges were made with little rats of 
starveling ponies, whose extreme speed was 
scarcely that of the slow canter of an ordinary 
Cavalry charger. 

If Sir J. French were to descend to statistics 
and facts, he would find it impossible to trace any 
causal relation between the efficacy of the lance 
and sword and the condition of the horses from 


time to time. The phenomena are precisely the 
same under all conditions from first to last. 
Everywhere and always the rifle is supreme. 
The better the horse, the better help for the rifle 
that is all. In point of fact, he is quite aware 
that the principal success of the regular Cavalry 
was achieved when the horses were at their 
worst that is to say, in the very period he refers 
to, when the Cavalry headed off Cronje and 
pinned him, purely by fire-action, to the river- 
bed at Paardeberg. Another good performance 
though it was by no means specially a Cavalry 
performance ; for mounted riflemen and Infantry 
were associated with the Cavalry was the pro- 
longed screening operations in front of Colesberg 
(November to January, 1900). There was no 
complaint about the horses then, but the sabre 
never killed or hurt a Boer. It was only once 
drawn from the scabbard, and was speedily re- 
sheathed, owing to hostile fire. 

I pass to the last and strangest of Sir John 
French's reasons for regarding the war as abnormal 
in the sense that it gave no opportunity for the 
use of the lance or sword. It is this : That, " owing 
to repeated and wholesale release of prisoners 
who had been captured and subsequently ap- 
peared in the field against us, we were called 
upon to fight, not 86,000 or 87,000 men, but 


something like double that number or more, with 
the additional disadvantage that the enemy pos- 
sessed on his second and third appearance against 
us considerable experience of our methods and a 
certain additional seasoned fitness." Here again 
is a proposition which alone is sufficient to destroy 
the case for the lance and sword. If, as a defence 
of those weapons, it means anything, it must 
mean that the Cavalry, by means of their steel 
weapons, were perpetually taking prisoners, to no 
purpose, because these prisoners were constantly 
released. Gradually the enemy learnt " experi- 
ence of our methods," that is, of our shock- 
methods with the lance and sword, and, armed 
with this experience and the " seasoned fitness " 
produced by successive spells of fighting, they 
eventually countered or evaded those shock- 
methods, with what result we are not told. But 
such an interpretation is inadmissible. What Sir 
John French surely should say is precisely the 
reverse of what he does imply namely, that we 
started the war in an ignorance of the Boer 
methods which cost us scores of millions of 
pounds ; that we slowly learnt experience of those 
methods, and ultimately conquered the Boers 
and ended the war by imitating those methods. 
That is the plain moral of the war, as enforced by 
every historian. 


Observe that, for the sake of argument, I am 
accepting as historically accurate Sir John 
French's statement about the advantage pos- 
sessed by the Boers owing to the release of their 
prisoners. It is almost superfluous to add that 
the statement, in the sense he uses it, has no 
historical foundation. The truth is exactly the 
opposite. The advantage was immensely on our 
side. The Boers took many thousands of British 
prisoners, but permanently retained none, because 
they had no means of retaining them. During 
the last year of the war prisoners were released on 
the spot. A large proportion of these men fought 
again, some several times. No Boer prisoner 
of .war that is, captured in action was released. 
In December, 1900, we had about 15,000 in 
our possession ; in May, 1902, about 50,000. 

It was mainly by this attrition of the Boer 
forces that we reduced them to submission. The 
element of historical truth in Sir John French's 
proposition is this : that in 1900, after the fall of 
Bloemfontein, a considerable number of Boers 
surrendered voluntarily, not in action, and were 
dismissed to their farms under a pledge not to 
fight again a pledge which they broke, under 
circumstances into which we need not enter. 
There are no exact statistics as to the numbers 
of these men, but at an outside estimate they 


cannot have amounted to more than 5 per cent, 
of the total number of Boers engaged in the war. 
In any case, the point is totally irrelevant to the 
question of shock-tactics. That is a question of 
combat, and in combat, as Sir John French is 
aware, the Boers were, nine times out of ten, 
greatly outnumbered. 

Such are Sir John French's reasons for the 
failure of the lance and sword in South Africa. 
They constitute an instructive revelation of the 
mental attitude of the advocates of those weapons. 
Is it not plain that we are dealing here with a 
matter of faith, not of reason ; of dogma, not of 
argument ; of sentiment, not of technical prac- 
tice ? The simple technical issue what happens 
in combat ? is persistently evaded, and refuge 
sought in vague and inaccurate generalizations, 
which, when tested, turn out to throw no light 
upon the controversy. 

Sir John French himself manages to demon- 
strate in this same Introduction that the ques- 
tion is really one of sentiment. It is a seemingly 
incurable delusion with him that the whole cam- 
paign on behalf of the rifle is an attack of a per- 
sonal nature on the war exploits of himself and 
the regular Cavalry, instead of being, what it 
really is, an attack on the lances and swords 
carried by the Cavalry. This delusion carries him 


to the strangest lengths of professional egotism. 
In the whole of this Introduction there is not a 
line to indicate that any British mounted rifle- 
man unprovided with steel weapons took part 
in the war, or that the tactics and conduct of 
these men have the smallest interest for English- 
men or the smallest bearing on the present con- 
troversy. No one would gather that our Colonial 
mounted riflemen led the way in tactical develop- 
ment, and frequently, brief and rough as their 
training had been, excelled the Cavalry in effici- 
ency, simply because they were trained on the 
right principles with the right weapon. 

" Even in South Africa," says Sir John French, 
" grave though the disadvantages were under 
which our Cavalry laboured from short commons 
and overwork " [as though these disadvantages 
were not shared equally by our mounted riflemen 
and by the Boers themselves !], " the Boer mounted 
riflemen acknowledged on many occasions the 
moral force of the cold steel, and gave way before 
it." Then follows a concrete instance, taken 
from the action of Zand River in May, 1900. 

Anyone familiar with the history of the war 
must have felt deep bewilderment at the General's 
choice, for purposes of illustration, of this action, 
which has not generally been held to have re- 
flected high credit on the Cavalry. 


It is needless to discuss the battle in detail, 
because the accounts of it are set forth clearly 
and accurately enough in the " Official " and 
Times Histories, and, inter alia, in Mr. Goldman's 
work, " With French in South Africa." As a 
very small and unimportant episode in the battle, 
there was certainly a charge by a whole brigade 
of regular Cavalry against some Boers whom the 
Times History describes as a " party," and whom 
Mr. Goldman, who was present, estimates at 200 
in number ; but it is perfectly clear, from all 
accounts, (1) that the casualties resulting from 
the charge were too few to deserve record ; 
(2) that the charge had no appreciable effect upon 
the fortunes of the day ; (3) that the Cavalry on 
the flank in question suffered serious checks and 
losses at the hands of a greatly inferior force ; 
and (4) that Sir John French's turning force, like 
General Broadwood's turning force on the oppo- 
site flank, completely failed to perform the 
supremely important intercepting mission en- 
trusted to them by Lord Roberts, and failed 
through weakness in mobile fire-action. 

Sir John French's version of the action teems 
with inaccuracies. All the cardinal facts, undis- 
puted facts to be found in any history, upon 
which the judgment of the reader as to the efficacy 
of the steel must depend, are omitted. There 


are no figures of relative numbers, no times, no 
description of the terrain, no statement of casual- 
ties. I will instance only one, but the greatest, 
error of fact. He writes that " the role of the 
Cavalry division was to bring pressure to bear 
on the right flank of the Boer army, in order to 
enable Lord Roberts to advance across the river 
and attack the main Boer forces." 

This is a highly misleading account of Roberts's 
tactical scheme for the battle. Eight thousand 
Boers, disposed in a chain of scattered detach- 
ments, held no less than twenty-five miles of 
country along the north bank of the Zand River, 
their right resting on the railway, which ran at 
right angles to the river. We had 38,000 men, 
including 12,000 mounted men, of whom 5,000 
were regular Cavalry. To have used the mounted 
Arm merely to " bring pressure to bear " upon 
the Boer flanks would have been a course alto- 
gether unworthy of Lord Roberts and the great 
army he controlled. He set no such limited aim 
before the Cavalry. He planned to surround and 
destroy the enemy by enveloping movements on 
both flanks, and gave explicit orders to that 
effect. French, with 4,000 men, had orders to 
ride round the Boer right flank, and seize the 
railway in their rear at Ventersburg Road. The 
same objective was given to the turning force 


under Broadwood, 3,000 strong, on the Boer left. 
Both enveloping operations failed. To " press " 
the Boers into retreat was nothing. They must 
have retreated anyhow, in the face of an army five 
times their superior. The point was to prevent 
them from retreating into safety, to cut off their 
retreat, and with mounted turning forces together 
nearly equal to the whole Boer force this aim was 
perfectly feasible, given one condition, which was 
not fulfilled that our mounted troops, headed by 
our premier and professional mounted troops, the 
Cavalry, could use their rifles and horses approxi- 
mately as well as the Boers. 

Now let us come to the heart of the matter. 

Let us waive all criticism of the accuracy and 
completeness of Sir John French's narrative, and 
test the grounds of his belief that it was owing to 
their fear of the sword that the Boers gave way 
when Dickson's brigade charged. The Cavalry 
carried firearms as well as swords, and out- 
numbered the party charged by at least five to one. 
We cannot apply the test of casualties, because 
there were so few. The only test we can apply is 
that of analogy from other combats. Conditions 
similar to those of Zand River were repeated, on a 
smaller or larger scale, thousands of times. Do we 
find that steel-armed mounted troops had greater 
moral effect upon the enemy than troops armed 


only with the rifle ? Did the presence of the 
lance and sword on the field of combat make any 
difference to the result ? The answer, of course, 
is that it made no difference at all. Anyone can 
decide this question himself. We know precisely 
what troops were present, and how they were 
armed, in all the combats of the war. 

We can detect many different factors at work, 
psychological, technical, tactical, topographical ; 
but there is one factor which we can eliminate as 
wholly negligible, and that is the presence of the 
lance and sword. The same phenomena reappear 
whether those weapons are there or not. For 
example, during Buller's campaign for the 
conquest of Northern Natal (May to June, 1900) 
very little use was made of regular Cavalry. Dur- 
ing the first phase, the advance over the Biggars- 
berg, the six regiments of Cavalry at Buller's 
disposal were left behind at Ladysmith. The 
mounted work throughout was done mainly by 
irregulars. Was it of a less aggressive and 
vigorous character on that account, by analogy, 
say, with the mounted operations during the 
advance of Roberts from Bloemfontein to Pre- 
toria ? We find, on the contrary, that the 
results were better. The total relative numbers 
on the Boer side and our side were about the 
same : we were about four to one. But while 


Roberts had 12,000 mounted men, of whom 5,000 
were Cavalry, Buller had only 5,500 mounted 
men, of whom 2,500 were Cavalry. Do we find 
that when the steelless irregulars mounted their 
horses, as Dickson's brigade mounted their 
horses, and made a rapid aggressive advance 
" charged," that is the Boers were any less 
inclined to retreat ? On the contrary, they were 
more inclined to do so. Witness, for instance, 
Dundonald's long and vigorous pursuit with his 
irregular brigade over the Biggarsberg on May 14. 

Or take the Bloemfontein-Pretoria advance, in 
which Zand River itself was an incident. Can 
we trace any further this alleged " terror of the 
cold steel " ? Allowance must be made for the 
brief and inadequate training of the Mounted 
Infantry and Colonials ; but, even with this 
allowance, a study of the facts shows that they 
did as well as the Cavalry, and sometimes better. 
The only effective local pursuit was made by 
Button's Australians at Klipfontein (May 30), 
where a gun was captured. These men had no 
steel weapons, yet they charged, and rode down 
their enemy. 

Take Plumer's brilliant defence of Rhodesia 
with mounted riflemen. Take the relief of 
Mafeking, one of the most arduous and finely- 
executed undertakings of the war. Did the 



900 troopers of the Imperial Light Horse who 
carried it out suffer from the lack of swords and 
lances ? They would not have taken them at a 
gift. Did their work compare unfavourably 
with that of the Cavalry Division, 6,000 strong, 
in the relief of Kimberley ? On the contrary, 
when we contrast the numbers employed, the 
opposition met with and the distance covered 
(251 miles in eighteen days), we shall conclude 
that the achievement of the irregulars was by 
far the more admirable of the two. 

An infinity of illustrations might be cited to 
prove the same point, but, in truth, it is a point 
which stands in no need of detailed proof. The 
onus probandi lies on those who defend weapons 
which palpably failed. It is the Cavalryman's 
fixed idea that " mounted action," as the phrase 
goes, is associated solely with steel weapons ; 
that soldiers in the saddle are only formidable 
because they carry those weapons. Mounted 
riflemen are pictured as dismounted, stationary, 
or as employing their horses only for purposes 
of flight. These fictions were blown to pieces by 
the South African War, and the irony of the case 
is that Sir John French gratuitously brings 
ridicule on the Cavalry by reviving them. If 
they are not fictions, the Cavalry stand con- 
demned by their own pitifully trivial record of 


work done with the steel. But this is to slander 
the Cavalry. They do not stand condemned ; 
their steel weapons stand condemned. They 
themselves, like all other mounted troops, did 
well precisely hi proportion to their skill in and 
reliance on the rifle and horse combined. Their 
lances were soon returned to store ; their swords, 
after rusting in the scabbards for another year, 
were also, in the case of nearly all regiments, aban- 
doned ; a good Infantry rifle replaced the weak 
carbine, and the Cavalry became definitely recog- 
nized as mounted riflemen. 

No one has ever regarded Sir John French him- 
self as otherwise than a leader of conspicuous 
energy and resource. But, so far from owing any- 
thing to the lance and sword, he suffered heavily 
from the almost exclusive education of his troops 
to those weapons, and from the inadequacy of 
their firearm. 


AND now, what in Great Britain is the real 
theory on this question ? Let us go to Sir John 
French again. The South African War, he says, 
is no guide for the future. It is abnormal, for 
the reasons stated above. The Manchurian War 
he has also stated to be abnormal. Where, then, 
is the theoretical advantage of the lance and 
sword over the modern rifle ? We are left in 
ignorance. The physical problem is untouched. 
All we have is the bare dogmatic assertion that 
the steel weapon can impose tactics on the rifle. 
This is how Sir John French expresses the theory 
on p. xi of his Introduction : " Were we to do 
so " (i.e., to " throw our cold steel away as useless 
lumber "), "we should invert the role of Cavalry, 
turn it into a defensive arm, and make it a prey 
to the first foreign Cavalry that it meets ; for 
good Cavalry can always compel a dismounted 
force of mounted riflemen to mount and ride 
away, and when such riflemen are caught on 



their horses, they have power neither of offence 
nor defence, and are lost." 

Eight years have elapsed since the Boer War. 
Memories are short, and it is possible now to 
print a statement of this sort, which, if promul- 
gated during the dust and heat of the war itself, 
when the lance and sword fell into complete and 
well-merited oblivion, and when mounted men on 
both sides were judged rigidly by their proficiency 
in the use of the horse and the rifle, would have 
excited universal derision. The words which 
follow recall one of the writer's " abnormal- 
ities " already commented on : " If in European 
warfare such mounted riflemen were to separate 
and scatter, the enemy would be well pleased, 
for he could then reconnoitre and report every 
movement, and make his plans in all security. 
In South Africa the mounted riflemen were the 
hostile army itself, and when they had dispersed 
there was nothing left to reconnoitre ; but when 
will these conditions recur ?" When, indeed ? 
There was nothing, it seems, to reconnoitre, be- 
cause the enemy always " scattered and dis- 
persed." And the Generals were " well pleased "! 
" Nothing left to reconnoitre " ! One can only 
marvel at the courage of Sir John French in 
breathing the word " reconnoitre " in connection 
with Cavalry work in South Africa. 


He ought to admit that Cavalry reconnaissance 
was bad, and that the army suffered for it. 
No historian has ever defended it. It was the 
despair of Generals who wanted information 
as to the position of the enemy. Wits apart, 
the rifle ruled reconnaissance, as it obvi- 
ously always must rule it. Ceteris paribus, the 
best rifleman is the best scout. The Cavalry 
were not good riflemen, and were therefore not 
good scouts. Not a single Boer scout from the 
beginning to the end of the war was hurt by a 
sword or lance. Those weapons were a laughing- 
stock to foe and friend alike. And Sir John 
French's proposition is, not so much that the 
reconnaissance was good presumably, that goes 
without saying but that there was nothing to 
reconnoitre, thanks, apparently, to the terror 
spread by the lance and sword. 

Such a travesty of the war may be left to speak 
for itself. But it is very important to compre- 
hend the root idea which underlies it, an idea 
which, as we shall see, reappears in a less extreme 
form in General von Bernhardi's writings. It is 
expressed in the words " we should invert the role 
of Cavalry, turn it into a defensive arm." The rifle, 
it will be seen, is regarded as a defensive weapon, 
in contradistinction to the lance and sword, which 
are offensive weapons. To sustain this theory, 


it is absolutely necessary, of course, to proceed to 
the lengths to which Sir John French proceeds 
to declare, in effect, that there was no war and no 
fighting ; for if once we concede that there was 
a war, study its combats and compute their 
statistical results, we are forced to the conclusion 
that the rifle must have been used hi offence 
as well as hi defence. Abstract reflection might 
well anticipate this conclusion by suggesting 
that a defensive weapon and a defensive class of 
soldiers are contradictions in terms. 

There must be two parties to every combat, 
and, unless there is perfect equilibrium in combat, 
one side or the other must definitely be playing 
an offensive role ; and, even in equilibrium, both 
sides may be said to be as much in offence as in 
defence, whatever weapons they are using. The 
facts mainly illustrate the abstract principle. The 
Boers could not have taken guns and prisoners 
while acting on the defensive. Talana Hill, 
Nicholson's Nek, Spion Kop, Stormberg, Sannah's 
Post, Nooitgedacht, Zilikat's Nek, Bakenlaagte, 
were not defensive operations from the Boer 
point of view. Nor were Magersfontein, Colenso, 
Elandslaagte, Paardeberg defensive operations 
from the British point of view. Whether the 
rifles were in the hands of Infantry or mounted 
troops is immaterial. A rifle is a rifle, who- 


ever holds it. It is just as absurd to say 
that the Boers who rode to and stormed on 
foot Helvetia and Dewetsdorp belonged to 
a defensive class of soldiers as it is to say 
that the Infantry who walked to and stormed 
Pieter's Hill belonged to a defensive class of 
soldiers. It is still more absurd to say that the 
Boers who charged home mounted at Sannah's 
Post, Vlakfontein, Bakenlaagte, Roodewal, Blood 
River Poort, and many other actions, and the 
British mounted riflemen who did similar things 
at Bothaville, were performing a defensive func- 
tion, while the Cavalry who pursued at Elands - 
laagte were performing an offensive function. 
Take this action of Elandslaagte, the solitary 
genuine example of a successful charge with the 
arme blanche. By whom was the real offensive 
work done ? By the Infantry and by the Im- 
perial Light Horse acting dismounted, and by 
the Artillery. After hours of hard and bloody 
fighting, these men stormed the ridge and forced 
the Boers to retreat. In the act of retreat they 
were charged by the Cavalry, who had hitherto 
been spectators of the action. 

It might be objected that I am taking a verbal 
advantage of Sir John French. He is guilty, it 
may be argued, only of the lesser fallacy that of 
thinking that the rifle is a defensive weapon for 


mounted men as distinguished from Infantry. 
Not so. He perceives the logical peril of ad- 
mitting that the rifle is an offensive weapon for 
any troops, and in another passage, when depre- 
cating attacks on the " Cavalry spirit " (p. vii), 
makes use of the following words : " Were we to 
seek to endow Cavalry with the tenacity and stiff- 
ness of Infantry, or take from the mounted arm 
the mobility and the cult of the offensive which are 
the breath of its life, we should ruin not only the 
Cavalry, but the Army besides." (The italics 
are mine.) It may be pointed out that, but for 
their firearms and the mobility and offensive 
power derived from them, the Cavalry in South 
Africa would indeed have been "ruined" beyond 
hope of rehabilitation. 

But let us look at the underlying principle 
expressed. Infantry are" stiff and tenacious " 
(that is, obviously, in defence). Cavalry have the 
" cult of the offensive." Those are the distinc- 
tive " spirits " of the two Arms. The bitter irony 
of it! Which Arm really displayed the most 
" offensive spirit " in South Africa ? Study the 
lists of comparative casualties in the two Arms 
during that period of the war in which Infantry 
were mainly engaged. If at Talana, the Battle 
of Ladysmith, Colenso, Dronfield, Poplar Grove, 
Karee Siding, Sannah's Post, Zand River, Doom- 


kop, or Diamond Hill, the Cavalry in their own 
sphere of work had shown the offensive power 
displayed by the Infantry in the battles on the 
Tugela, or in Methuen's campaign from Orange 
River to Magersfontein, or at Driefontein, 
Doornkop, Bergendal, and Diamond Hill, the 
war would have showed different results. There 
was no distinction in point of bravery between 
any branches of the Services. Fire-power and fire- 
efficiency were the tests, and lack of a good firearm 
and of fire-efficiency on only too many occasions 
fatally weakened the offensive spirit of the Cavalry. 
And what of the " tenacity and stiffness " with 
which we must not " seek to endow " Cavalry ? 
Ominous words, redolent of disaster ! Have no 
they fully as much need of those qualities as 
Infantry ? Imagine our Cavalry doing the work 
that the Boers had to do on so many score of occa- 
sions to fight delaying rearguard actions against 
immensely superior numbers, with no reserves, 
and a heavy convoy to protect. We shall be 
fortunate if, through reliance on and skill in the 
use of the rifle, they display as much tenacity and 
stiffness as Botha's men at Pieter's Hill or Koch's 
men at Elandslaagte against forces four times 
their superior in strength, to say nothing of such 
incidents as Dronfield, where 150 Boers defied a 
whole division of Cavalry and several batteries ; 


of Poplar Grove and Zand River, where small 
hostile groups virtually paralyzed whole brigades ; 
or of Bergendal, where seventy-four men held up a 
whole army. There was nothing abnormal tacti- 
cally or topographically about any of these inci- 
dents. Any function performed by the Boer 
mounted riflemen may be demanded from our 
Cavalry in any future war. Suppose them, for 
example, vested with the strictly normal duty of 
covering a retreat against a superior force of all 
arms ; suppose a squadron, like the seventy-four 
Zarps at Bergendal, ordered to hold the car- 
dinal hill of an extended position, and their leader 
replying : " This is not our business. We are an 
offensive Arm. We cannot entrench, and we have 
not the tenacity and stiffness of Infantry. Our 
business is to charge with the lance and sword." 
Would the General be well pleased ? 

The reader will ask for the key to this curious 
discrimination between the " spirits " of Cavalry 
and Infantry. It is this : The lance and sword, 
when pitted against the rifle, can, if they are used 
at all, only be used in offence. Men sitting on 
horseback, using steel weapons with a range of a 
couple of yards, plainly cannot defend themselves 
against riflemen. Even the Cavalry tacitly admit 
this principle, and if they accepted its logical con- 
sequence, a logical consequence completely con- 


firmed by the facts of modern war, they would 
admit, too, that the sword and lance cannot be 
used for offence against riflemen in modern war. 
But they will not admit that. " Tant pis pour 
les faits," they say. " All modern war is ab- 
normal. Our steel weapons dominate combat. 
Without them we are nothing." 

In these circumstances they are forced to set 
up this strange theory that Cavalry is a pecu- 
liarly " offensive " Arm, a theory which the reader 
will find expressed in all Cavalry writings. On 
the face of it the theory is meaningless. It is a 
mere verbal juggle, because, as I said before, 
there are two parties to every combat, and 
defence is the necessary and invariable counter- 
part of offence. All combatant soldiers, including 
Cavalry, carry firearms, and if Cavalry choose to 
use these firearms in offence, by hypothesis they 
will impose fire -action on the defence, whether 
the defence consists of Cavalry or any other class 
of troops. Conversely, if they use their rifles in 
defence, as by hypothesis they must, they will 
impose fire-action on the attacking force, be it 
Cavalry or any other Arm. In other words, the 
rifle governs combat. That is why the lance and 
sword disappeared in South Africa. Both in 
offence and defence the Boer riflemen forced the 
Cavalry to accept combat on terms of fire. 


And what kind of Cavalry do our Cavalry- 
men count upon meeting in our next war ? They 
count, incredible as it seems, upon meeting 
Cavalry not superior, but inferior, to the Boer 
mounted riflemen, inferior because, as I shall 
show from von Bernhardi, they defy science, 
shut their eyes to the great principle of the 
supremacy of fire, are prepared deliberately to 
abdicate their fire-power, and hope to engage, by 
mutual agreement, as it were, and on the under- 
standing that suitable areas of level ground can 
be found, in contests of crude bodily weight. 

And what of the action of Cavalry against other 
Arms ? We know Sir John French's opinion 
about mounted riflemen. They will gallop for 
their lives " defenceless " at the approach of 
" good " Cavalry. But Infantry, riflemen with- 
out horses, who cannot gallop, but can only run ? 
Their case, it would seem, must be still more 
desperate. They are not only defenceless, but 
destitute even of the means of flight. And 
yet even Sir John French credits them, if not 
with an offensive spirit, at least with "tenacity 
and stiffness," derived, of course, from their rifles. 
But their mounted comrades, armed with these 
same rifles, lack these soldierly qualities. We 
arrive thus at the conclusion that the horse, which 
one would naturally suppose to be a source of 


immensely enhanced mobility and power, is a 
positive source of danger to a rifleman unless he 
also carries a lance or sword. 

Here is the reductio ad absurdum of the arme 
blanche theory, and I beg for the reader's par- 
ticular attention to it. Of course, the conclusion 
is hi reality too absurd ; for Sir John French him- 
self does not really believe that Infantry are a 
defensive Arm. In point of fact, no serious man 
believes that Infantry hi modern war have any- 
thing whatever to fear from the lance and sword, 
and their training-book is written on that assump- 
tion. Nor does Sir John French really believe 
that Mounted Infantry are a defensive Arm who 
run from Cavalry ; otherwise, he would never 
rest until he had secured the complete abolition 
of our Mounted Infantry, who are now, under his 
official sanction, designed to act, not only as 
divisional mounted troops against steel-armed 
Continental Cavalry, but to co-operate with, and 
in certain events take the place of, our own 
regular Cavalry hi far wider functions, and are 
presumably not going to be whipped off the field 
at the distant glimpse of a lance or sword. And 
I may say here that the reader can obtain no 
better and more searching sidelight on the steel 
theory than by studying the Mounted Infantry 
Manual (1909) for the rules given about similar 


and analogous functions. Nor, if Sir John French 
went the whole length of the theory, would he, 
as Inspector-General, have permitted our Colonial 
mounted riflemen to think that they might be of 
some Imperial value in a future war. It is only 
in order to sustain his a priori case for the steel 
weapons that he finds himself forced into 
the logical impasses to which I have drawn 

There is one further point to deal with before 
leaving Sir John French's Introduction. He 
admits the necessity of a rifle for Cavalry, and 
we may presume him to admit that the Boer War 
proved the necessity for a good rifle and the 
futility of a bad carbine. When, in his opinion, 
is this rifle to be used ? "I have endeavoured to 
impress upon all ranks," he writes on page xvii, 
" that when the enemy's Cavalry is overthrown, our 
Cavalry will find more opportunities of using the 
rifle than the cold steel, and that dismounted 
attacks will be more frequent than charges with 
the arme blanche. By no means do I rule out as 
impossible, or even unlikely, attacks by great bodies 
of mounted men against other arms on the battle- 
field ; but I believe that such opportunities will 
occur comparatively rarely, and that undue promi- 
nence should not be given to them in our peace 
training." (The italics are mine.) 


This is a typically nebulous statement of the 
combat functions of Cavalry hi modern war, and, 
like the generality of such statements, will be 
found to contain, if analyzed, a refutation of the 
writer's own views on the importance of the arme 
blanche. We ask ourselves immediately why he 
thought it necessary to account for the failure of 
the arme blanche in South Africa by the elaborate 
accumulation of arguments for " abnormality " 
developed a few pages earlier. After all, it seems, 
the war, in its bearing upon the efficacy of weapons, 
was normal. The Boers had no " Cavalry " in 
the writer's use of the word that is, steel-armed 
Cavalry. What he assumes to be the primary and 
most formidable objective of our own steel-armed 
cavalry was, therefore, by a fortunate accident, 
non-existent. There was no need to " over- 
throw " it, because there was nothing to over- 
throw, and our Cavalry was free from the outset 
to devote its attention to the "other Arms " 
that is, to riflemen and Artillery assumed evi- 
dently by the writer to be a secondary and less 
formidable objective. But here, apparently, 
" opportunities " for the arme blanche are to 
occur " comparatively rarely " in any war, 
European or otherwise, whether the riflemen 
show " tenacity and stiffness " or " disperse for 
hundreds of miles "; whether the horses are 


perennially fresh or perennially fatigued ; whether 
we outnumber the foe or they outnumber us ; 
whether annexation or mere victory is our aim. 

If only, we cannot help exclaiming, this prin- 
ciple had been recognized in 1899 ! We knew the 
Boers had no swords or lances : we had always 
known it. If only we had prepared our Cavalry 
for the long-foreseen occasion, trained them to 
fire, given them good firearms, and impressed 
upon them that opportunities for shock would 
occur " comparatively rarely," instead of teaching 
them up to the last minute that fire-action was 
an abnormal, defensive function of their Arm, 
worthy of little more space in their Manual than 
that devoted to " Funerals," and much less than 
that devoted to " Ceremonial Escorts." 

The root of the fallacy propounded by Sir John 
French lies in his refusal to recognize that a rifle 
may be just as deadly a weapon in the hands of 
Cavalry as in the hands of "other Arms," and, 
indeed, a far more deadly weapon, thanks to the 
mobility conferred by the horse. If, for example, 
Infantry can, as he tacitly admits they can, force 
Cavalry to adopt fire-action, a fortiori can 
Cavalry, if they choose, force Cavalry to adopt 
fire -action. In other words, the rifle governs 
combat, as it did, in fact, govern combat in South 
Africa and Manchuria. But Cavalry operating 


against Cavalry, according to Sir John French, 
are not so to choose. We can only speculate 
upon what may happen if one side is so unsports- 
manlike as to break the rules and masquerade 
as another Arm. The stratagem is simple, 
because the rifle kills at a mile, and the orthodox 
Cavalry may be unaware until it is too late that 
the unorthodox Cavalry is playing them a trick. 
Meanwhile the best riflemen, whether they have 
horses or not, will win, and horsemen who have 
spent 80 or 90 per cent, of their time in steel- 
training will have cause to regret their error. 

But Sir John French contemplates no such 
awkward contingencies. We may surmise, how- 
ever, that it is owing to an uncomfortable sus- 
picion of his own fallacy that in this paragraph 
and elsewhere he is so careful to isolate inter- 
cavalry combats from mixed combats, and to 
postulate the complete " overthrow " of one 
Cavalry an overthrow effected solely by the 
arme blanche before permitting the surviving 
Cavalry, in Kipling's words, to " scuffle mid un- 
seemly smoke. " He has a formula for the occasion. 
In this paragraph it is " when the enemy's 
Cavalry is overthrown." On page xiv, speaking 
of raids, which he deprecates, he says : " Every 
plan should be subordinate to what I consider 
a primary necessity the absolute and complete 


overthrow of the hostile Cavalry "; and on 
page xv : "If the enemy's Cavalry has been over- 
thrown, the role of reconnaissance will have been 
rendered easier," a truism upon which the Boer 
War throws a painfully ironical sidelight. 

If the reader is puzzled by this curiously super- 
fluous insistence on the " overthrow " of the 
enemy analogous to the equally superfluous in- 
sistence on the " offensive " character of the 
Cavalry Arm, he will once more find an ex- 
planation in the anomalous status of the arme 
blanche. No one would dream of repeatedly im- 
pressing upon Infantry, for example, as though 
it were a principle they might otherwise overlook, 
that their primary aim must be the absolute and 
complete overthrow of the hostile Infantry. But 
the advocate of the arme blanche is always on the 
horns of a dilemma. He dare not admit that the 
rifle in the hands of Cavalry is as formidable a 
weapon as hi the hands of Infantry, if not a far 
more formidable weapon. He therefore in- 
stinctively tends to picture steel-armed Cavalry 
as perpetually pitted against steel-armed Cavalry. 
Both sides are always hi offence until the moment 
when one is " completely and absolutely over- 
thrown." Then some other roles, very vaguely 
delineated, open up to the victor. Needless to 
say, this picture bears no resemblance to war. 


Troops are not, by mutual agreement, sorted out 
into classes, like competitors in athletic sports. 
Every Arm must be prepared to meet at any 
moment any other Arm, and any other weapon. 

Nor do these " complete and absolute " oblitera- 
tions of one Arm by its corresponding Arm ever, 
in fact, happen. That they could ever happen 
through the agency of the lance and sword is 
the wildest supposition of all. Compared with 
rifles, these weapons are harmless. Even the 
most backward and ignorant Cavalry, trained to 
rely absolutely on the lance and sword, would, if 
it found itself beaten in trials of shock, or, like 
the Japanese Cavalry, greatly outnumbered, 
resort to the despised firearm, imitate the tactics 
and vest itself with something of the " tenacity 
and stiffness," as well as with the aggressive 
potency, of those " other Arms," which, by hy- 
pothesis, must be attacked with the rifle ; and in 
doing so it would force its antagonist to do the 



I HAVE gone at considerable length into the 
opinions of Sir John French, as expressed in his 
Introduction to von Bernhardi's work partly 
because it is more important for us to know what 
our own Cavalrymen think than what German 
Cavalrymen think, and partly because it will be 
easier for the reader to estimate the value of. the 
German writer's views if he is already familiar 
with Sir John French's way of thinking. We 
should expect, of course, to find identity between 
the views of the two men, since Sir John French 
acclaims the German author as the fountain 
of all wisdom ; but on that point the reader 
would be well advised to reserve judgment. 

I shall now discuss " Cavalry in War and 
Peace," and first let me say a few more words 
on a very important point the circumstances of 
its composition. 

When General von Bernhardi wrote his first 


book, " Cavalry in Future Wars," he did not take 
the current German Cavalry Regulations as his 
text, because they were too archaic to deserve 
such treatment. He condemned them hi the 
mass, and, independently of them, penned his 
own scheme for a renovated modern Cavalry. 
After about nine years of complete neglect, 
during which the two great wars hi South Africa 
and Manchuria were fought, the German authori- 
ties decided that some recognition of modern 
conditions must be made. They have recently 
re-armed the Cavalry with a good carbine, and 
issued a new book of Cavalry Regulations. 
These circumstances induced the General to write 
his second book, " Cavalry in War and Peace," 
and to throw it into the form of a direct criticism 
of the official Regulations, which he constantly 
quotes in footnotes and uses in the text of his own 
observations and constructive recommendations. 
What is the result ? The first point to notice 
is that he regards the new official Regulations, 
" though better than the old ones," as thoroughly 
and radically bad. His writings, he says, " have 
fallen on barren soil." He condemns them 
almost invariably for precisely the same reason 
as before, namely, that they virtually ignore the 
rifle in practice, and continue the ancient and 
worn-out traditions of the steel, with mere lip- 


service to the modern scientific weapon. But a 
disappointment was in store for those who had 
hoped that the mental process involved in criti- 
cizing concrete Regulations, as well as the vast 
mass of instructive phenomena presented by the 
two wars which, when he wrote first, were still 
" future wars " to him, would arouse the General 
himself to a realization of the inconsistencies in 
his own earlier work. 

These hopes have been falsified. The fascina- 
tion of the arme blanche was proof against the 
test, and the result is one of the strangest military 
works which was ever published. Bitter satire 
as it is on the official system of training, any 
impartial reader must end by sympathizing, not 
with the satirist, but with the officials satirized. 
They at any rate try to be logical. Their con- 
cessions to fire are the thinnest pretence ; their 
belief in shock undisguised and sincere. What- 
ever follies and errors this belief involves them 
in, they pursue their course with unflinching 
consistency, sublimely careless of science and 
modern war conditions. 

Their critic, on the other hand, keenly alive 
to the absurdities inculcated, has not the mental 
courage to insist on the only logical alternatives. 
Faced with the necessity of proving their absurdity, 
he refuses to use the only effective weapon avail- 

able, gives away his own case for fire by weak 
concession to shock, and succeeds in producing a 
work which will convince no one in Germany, 
and the greater part of which, as a practical 
guide to Cavalrymen, in this country or any 
other, is worthless. A mist of ambiguity shrouds 
what should be the simplest propositions. We 
move through a fog of ill-defined terms and vague 
qualifications. We puzzle our brains with aca- 
demical distinctions, and if we come upon what 
seems to be some definite recommendation, we 
are pretty sure to find it stultified in another 
chapter, or even hi the same chapter, by a 
reservation in the opposite sense. The key to 
each particular muddle, to each ambiguity, to 
each timid qualification, to each confusing doc- 
trinaire classification, is always the same namely, 
that the writer, from sheer lack of knowledge of 
what modern fire-tactics are, at the last moment 
shrinks from his own theories about their value. 
What has happened is exactly what one would 
expect to happen. In Germany the General 
admits his failure, and in England he is 
hailed by Sir John French, who politely ignores 
his blunders about fire-action, as the apostle of 
the steel, instead of what he really is, the apostle, 
though the ineffectual apostle, of the rifle. 

Let us first be quite clear as to his opinion of 


the present German Cavalry. " While all other 
Arms have adapted themselves to modern con- 
ditions, Cavalry has stood still," he says on the 
first page of his Introduction. They have " no 
sort of tradition " for a future war (p. 5). Their 
training creates " no sound foundation for pre- 
paration for war." It is " left far behind in the 
march of military progress." " It cannot stand 
the test of serious war." It is trammelled by the 
" fetters of the past," and lives on " antiquated 
assumptions " (p. 6). Its " mischievous delu- 
sions " will result in " bitter disappointment " 
(p. 175). Many of the new Regulations " betoken 
failure to adapt existing principles to modern 
ideas" (p. 361); others "do not take the con- 
ditions of reality into account " ; or " cannot be 
regarded as practical " ; or are " provisional " ; 
and of one set of peculiarly ludicrous evolutions he 
uses the delightful phrase that they are " included 
in the Regulations with a view to their theoretical 
and not for their practical advantages " (p. 333). 
He stigmatizes " the formal encounters," the 
" old-fashioned knightly combats," the " pro 
forma evolutions," the " survivals of the Dark 
Ages," the "spectacular battle-pieces," the " red- 
tape methods," the " tactical orgies," the 
" childish exercises," and " set pieces " of peace 
manoeuvres. The origin of the trouble, he says, 


is " indolent conservatism " (p. 366). " Develop- 
ment in our branch of the Service has come to a 
standstill " (ibid.). The officers do not study 
history or the progress of foreign Cavalries. And 
he reiterates again and again his general con- 
clusion that the Cavalry is unprepared for 

Such is the material which forms his text. And 
we may ask at once, Is a book based on such an 
appalling state of affairs, and addressed exclus- 
ively to a Cavalry described as being given over to 
ancient shibboleths, mischievous delusions and 
antiquated assumptions is such a book likely to 
deserve the effusive and unqualified praise of our 
own foremost Cavalry authority ? Is it likely to 
be worthy of becoming the Bible of a modern and 
progressive Cavalry, such as Sir John French con- 
siders our own Cavalry, trained under his own 
guidance, to be ? Is it likely to be " exhaustive," 
" convincing," " complete " ? 

To suppose so is to insult the intelligence of 
our countrymen. We do not teach the ABC in 
our Universities. Our natural science schools 
do not assume that their pupils belong to the 
" Dark Ages," and waste two-thirds of their 
energy in laborious refutations of such extinct 
superstitions as witchcraft. The education of 
our sailors to modern naval war is not conducted 


on the assumption that the Navy consists of 
wooden sailing-vessels whose inadequacy to 
modern conditions must be elaborately demon- 
strated. A gunnery course and the reader will 
note the analogy does not consist mainly of 
arguments designed to prove that the cutlass is 
no longer so important a weapon as the long- 
range gun and the torpedo. Nor in the military 
sphere are our Infantry and Artillery instructed 
with a view to weaning them from the cult of the 
pike and the catapult. 

So, too, we may be quite sure that there is 
something radically wrong when our Cavalry, in 
their search for an authoritative exposition of 
modern Cavalry tactics, are reduced to relying on a 
foreign writer who writes for a Cavalry ignorant of 
the elements of modern Cavalry tactics, and a good 
half of whose work is taken up with scoldings and 
appeals which from our British point of view are 
grotesquely redundant. All that is good hi what 
von Bernhardi says about fire-action we know 
from our own war experience. All his errors 
about fire-action we can detect also from our 
own war experience. 

We should expect Sir John French to comment 
on these facts, to warn his readers that the book 
under review was written for a Cavalry unversed 
in modern war and blind to its teaching. We 


should expect some note of pride and satisfaction 
in the fact that his own national Cavalry did not 
need these scathing and humiliating reminders 
that war is not a " theoretical " and " childish " 
pastime, but a serious and dangerous business ; 
some hint to the effect that perhaps we, with our 
three years' experience of the modern rifle, may 
have something useful to tell General von Bern- 
hardi about principles which he has framed in the 
speculative seclusion of his study. Not a word, 
not a hint of any such warning or criticism. The 
topic is too dangerous. Once admit that South 
Africa counts to say nothing of Manchuria once 
begin to dot the " i's " and cross the " t's " of the 
German's speculations, and the arme blanche is 
lost. Instead, we have the passionless reser- 
vation from Sir John French that " he does 
not always approve " of those German Regula- 
tions, so many of which von Bernhardi thinks 
prehistoric and ludicrous, and at the end of his 
Introduction we have a fervent appeal to the 
British Cavalry not to " expose our ignorance 
and conceit" by overvaluing our own experi- 
ence, but to " keep abreast with every change 
hi the tendencies of Cavalry abroad," and to 
"assimilate the best of foreign customs " to our 
own. " Keep abreast !" What an expression to 
use in such a connection ! " Best foreign cus- 


toms !" Where are these customs ? There appears 
to be only one answer namely, that these 
customs are hi reality the very customs which 
von Bernhardi attacks with such savage scorn, 
and yet by such ineffective and half-hearted 
methods that he leaves them as strong as before. 
His qualifications and reservations give Sir John 
French a loophole, so that what, read through 
English eyes, should be a final condemnation of the 
steel becomes to him a vindication of the steel. 

The link between the two writers is that both 
disregard the facts of modern war. Since these 
facts are fatal to the steel theory, both are com- 
pelled to disregard them. What wars, then, 
according to the German expert, are the un- 
educated German Cavalry to study ? He deals 
with this point on page 5. He dismisses the wars of 
Frederick the Great and Napoleon. He dismisses 
the Franco-German War of 1870-71, as we might 
expect from his earlier work, where he pointed 
out how meagre and feeble were the performances 
of the Cavalry compared with those of other Arms. 
He dismisses the Russo-Turkish War for the same 
reason, and, by implication, the Austro-Prussian 
War of 1866. All these wars, he says, " present 
a total absence of analogy." Then, entirely dis- 
regarding the whole period in which science per- 
fected the firearm, he dismisses the wars hi South 


Africa and Manchuria. And he comes back to 
what ? The American War of Secession of 1861- 
1865, which " appears to be the most interesting 
and instructive campaign for the service of 
modern Cavalry," but which is " almost un- 
known " in Germany. In any other branch of 
study but that of Cavalry an analogous recom- 
mendation would be received with a compas- 
sionate smile. The element of truth and sense 
in it and there is much truth and sense hi it is 
so obvious and unquestioned as not to need 
expression for the benefit of any well-informed 
student. The American horsemen discovered that 
the rifle must be the principal weapon of Cavalry, 
and through that discovery made themselves in- 
comparably more formidable and efficient in every 
phase and function of war than the European 
Cavalries, who ignored and despised the American 
example in the succeeding European struggles . So 
far the writer is on the sound ground of platitude. 
But has nothing notable happened since 1865 ? 
A very important thing has happened. The 
Civil War firearm is now a museum curiosity. 
Science has devised a weapon of at least five times 
the power smokeless, quick-firing, and accurate 
up to ranges which were never dreamt of in 1865. 
Even the American weapon reduced shock to a 
wholly secondary place, and gave fire unques- 


tioned supremacy. The modern weapon has 
eliminated shock altogether, and inspired new 
and far more formidable tactics just as mobile, 
just as dashing, just as fruitful of " charges," but 
based on fire. Von Bernhardi cannot bring him- 
self to contemplate this result. He must have 
his lances and swords, and is compelled therefore 
to go back to 1865, when the death-knell of those 
weapons was already being sounded ; and in 
doing so he writes his own condemnation. 

This is how his book opens : " The great changes 
which have taken place in military science since 
the year 1866 have forced all arms to adopt new 
methods of fighting. It was first and foremost the 
improvement in the firearm which wrought the 
transformation on the battle-field." (My italics.) 
Since the year 1866 ! And yet the Cavalry are to 
go back to a war prior to that year for their instruc- 
tion, and are to neglect the only wars in which 
the improved firearm has been tested ! In point 
of fact, General von Bernhardi shows no sign of 
having closely studied even the American War 
of 1861-1865 with a view to finding out how the 
Americans used their firearms in conjunction 
with their horses. On this vital technical matter 
he writes throughout from a purely speculative 
standpoint, without a single allusion to the 
American technical methods, much less to the 


methods of our own and the Boer mounted rifle- 
men of 1899-1902. 

We must add in fairness that the General seems 
to be conscious that a war half a century old 
cannot be implicitly relied on for instruction, and 
he concludes his historical remarks, therefore, by 
the depressing conclusion that " there remains, 
then, nothing for us with no practical war 
experience to go on but to create the ground- 
work of our methods of training from theoretical 
and speculative reflection." 

On this question of the most instructive war 
for Cavalry study Sir John French preserves an 
eloquent silence. He dismisses South Africa and 
Manchuria, but he does not echo the recom- 
mendation as to America. Thereby hangs a tale. 
For years before the South African War, for years 
before von Bernhardi was heard of in England, 
the ablest military historian of our time, the late 
Colonel Henderson, had been dinning the moral 
of America into the ears of our Cavalry authorities, 
without producing the smallest effect. His pro- 
phecies were abundantly justified more than 
justified, for he wrote on the basis of the rifle of 
1865, and the rifle of 1899 totally eliminated the 
shock-tactics which were still practicable in 1865. 
He died in 1902, before the Boer War was over, 
but in one of the last essays written before his 


death he told the Cavalry that shock was extinct. 
" Critics of the Cavalry work in South Africa," he 
says, " do not seem to have realized that the 
small bore and smokeless powder have destroyed 
the last vestiges of the traditional role of Cavalry " 
(" Science of War," p. 376). 

It can be readily understood, therefore, that 
to refer our Cavalry of the present day to Colonel 
Henderson's brilliant and learned writings upon 
the American Civil War, would be a course 
highly dangerous to the interests of the lance 
and sword. Sir John French confines himself 
to urging his subalterns to read such " acknow- 
ledged authorities " as Sir Evelyn Wood and 
General von Bernhardi. But why is Sir Evelyn 
Wood singled out ? Eminent as he is, he has not 
the requisite modern war experience. Why not 
Lord Roberts, who has, and who is the only 
living British officer with a European reputa- 
tion ? General von Bernhardi himself has not 
been on active service since 1870, when he 
served as a Lieutenant hi the war against France. 
Sir John French will not advance the cause of 
the arme blanche in that way. He cannot stifle 
knowledge by an index. He need not agree with 
Lord Roberts, but to ignore him when speaking 
of " acknowledged authorities," to accuse him by 
implication of making " appeals from ignorance 



to vanity, " is unworthy of Sir John French. If he 
believes in his cause, let him urge the Cavalry 
to hear both sides ; it can do no harm. For my 
part, I would most strongly urge every Cavalry 
soldier to read von Bernhardi and Sir John French. 


To return to the book under discussion. Is 
it possible to gain from it any clear and definite 
idea of the respective functions and the relative 
importance of the rifle and the lance and sword 
as weapons for Cavalry ? Unfortunately, no. 
We have to deal with hazy generalizations scat- 
tered over the whole volume, each with its qualifi- 
cation somewhere else. It is true that warnings 
against the use of the steel greatly preponderate ; 
and although, by selecting quotations from 
various chapters, each party to our controversy 
could easily claim the General as an adherent 
to his cause, the advocates of the rifle could 
certainly amass more favourable texts. The 
following passage might almost be regarded as 
conclusive "We must be resolute in freeing 
ourselves from those old-fashioned knightly 
combats, which have in reality become obsolete 
owing to the necessities of modern war " (p. Ill) 
if its teaching were not weakened by such a 


maxim as this : " The crowning-point of all drill 
and of the whole tactical training is the charge 
itself, as on it depends the final result of the 
battle " (p. 325). But let us get closer to 
his actual argument. The reader should care- 
fully study pp. 101 to 105, where, under the 
heading " B. The Action of Cavalry " and 
sub-heading " 1. General," the author discusses 
in close detail the action of " Cavalry in the 
fight." The reader may wonder why he should 
have to wait till the hundredth page for this 
discussion. With the exception of some intro- 
ductory pages, whose general sense, on the 
question of weapons, is against the lance and 
sword, the greater part of the first hundred pages 
are devoted to " Reconnaissance, Screening, and 
Raids," functions none of which, least of all the 
third, can be performed without fighting, or at 
least the risk of fighting, while fighting cannot be 
performed without weapons. The reason probably 
is that the author, in arranging his scheme, 
instinctively tended, like all Cavalry writers, to 
regard reconnaissance as a sphere where Cavalry 
can confidently rely on meeting only Cavalry of 
exactly the same stamp as themselves, and where 
combats will as a matter of course be decided 
in the old knightly fashion by charges with steel. 
Such a state of things has no resemblance to 


real war. Raids, for example, are invariably 
levelled against fixed points and stationary 
detachments. The author himself is acutely 
aware of this truth, as we shall see hereafter ; 
but the postponement of the topic of weapons 
until the middle of the book is typical of the 
confused arrangement of the whole, a confusion 
attributable to the ubiquity of the rifle in all 
combats and the insuperable difficulty of sup- 
posing it to be an inferior weapon to the steel. 

It is impossible, therefore, to adhere strictly 
to the order in which the author arranges his 
treatise. I shall begin with the general chapter just 
referred to, and proceed, as far as possible, accord- 
ing to his own order from that point onwards. 

First of all, he finds it necessary to reject the 
plan of " dividing tactical principles according 
to the idea of the pre-arranged battle and the 
battle of encounter," a course which gives one 
an insight into the lifeless pedantry he has had 
to combat in the branch of military science he 
has made his own. Unfortunately, his own 
classification, so far as it bears upon weapons, 
is little better. He distinguishes the " great 
battle," in which " the fighting is always of a 
pre-arranged nature," from " the fight of the 
independent Cavalry," where "it is possible to 
distinguish between an encounter and an arranged 


affair." This is vague enough, but what follows 
is vaguer. One infers that there is to be little 
or no shock in the " great battle," where the 
Cavalry " must conform to the law of other arms 
in great matters and small." And then, he goes 
on : " But the fight is deeply influenced even in 
the former case [i.e., in the combats of the 
independent Cavalry] by the co-operation of 
these other arms, and I believe that only hi ex- 
ceptional cases will a purely Cavalry combat take 
place at all events, on a large scale. When 
squadrons, regiments, and perhaps even brigades, 
unassisted by other arms, come into collision with 
one another, the charge may often suffice for a 
decision. But where it is an affair of large 
masses, it will never be possible to dispense with 
the co-operation of firearms, and in most cases 
a combination of Cavalry combat, of dismounted 
fighting, and Artillery action, will ensue." 

What lies behind this ambiguous language, 
which, remember, is the outcome of pure " specula- 
tion " ? What principle is he trying to express ? 
Let us proceed : " We must not conceal from 
ourselves the fact that in a future war it will be 
by no means always a matter of choice whether 
we will fight mounted or dismounted. Rather 
by himself seizing the rifle will the opponent be able 
to compel us to adopt dismounted action. On 


our manoeuvre grounds the charge on horseback 
is always the order of the day, as against Artillery 
or machine-guns. The umpires continually allow 
such attacks to succeed, and the troops ride on as if 
nothing had happened. Equally fearless of conse- 
quences, do they expose themselves to rifle-fire ; but 
there are no bullets. In real war it is different." 
It is needless to point out that the words I 
have italicized destroy the whole case for the 
steel. They are an admission of the true prin- 
ciple that the rifle governs combat, whether the 
rifle is used by men with horses or men without 
horses. It is characteristic of the author that 
he cannot bring himself in this perilous context 
in set words to include Cavalry among those who 
" seize the rifle " ; but the words themselves 
imply it, for we do not speak of Infantry 
" seizing the rifle." At a later point the author 
is a little bolder in the development of his 
meaning. " Our probable opponents, too, will 
certainly often advance dismounted. At all 
events, they are endeavouring to strengthen 
Cavalry divisions by cyclist battalions and 
Infantry, and perhaps by Mounted Infantry, and 
thereby already show a remarkable inclination 
to conduct the fight, even of Cavalry, with the 
firearm, and only to use their horses as a means 
of mobility, as was the custom of the Boers in 


South Africa " and he might, of course, add, 
of the British mounted riflemen and of the 
British Cavalry. If only the author, who has 
advanced thus far on the path of common sense, 
would just for one experimental moment assume 
an open mind on the question of the steel, assume 
that it may perhaps be not merely partially, 
but wholly obsolete, and study the Boer War 
with real care from that point of view ! He 
evidently thinks there is something in this idea 
of using horses as a means of mobility and the 
rifle as the operative weapon. He expressly 
warns his Cavalry that their probable enemy is 
showing ominous signs of adopting this system, 
and that their adoption of it will force the German 
Cavalry to conform. 

Now mark that magical word " mobility." 
It is the germ of a new idea, a faint effort 
to escape from the dupery of phrases. Hitherto 
he has always spoken of " dismounted action " 
as distinguished from " mounted " or " Cavalry " 
combat. These phrases are always used by 
Cavalry theorists. They take the place of argu- 
ment, implying as they do that the use of the rifle 
reduces horsemen to the condition of Infantry, 
robbing them of mobility and all that glamour 
of dash and vigour which illuminates the mounted 
arm. The truth lies in the contrary direction. 


Without rifle power Cavalry lose all effective 
mobility. They can ride about in vacua, so to 
speak ; but directly they enter the zone of rifle- 
fire they are paralyzed, unless they can use 
their horses and their rifles in effective combina- 
tion. Then they can do what they please. 
Then, if necessary, they can even charge mounted, 
though that function is no more inseparably 
associated with their action than the charge 
at the double is inseparably associated with the 
action of Infantry. But is it not somewhat 
ludicrous to describe as " dismounted action," 
in contradistinction to " mounted action," a 
charge which ends, as the Boer charges ended, 
within point-blank or decisive range of the 
enemy and culminates in a murderously decisive 
fire-attack ? 

The worst of it is that General von Bernhardi 
will not analyze his own warnings and sugges- 
tions and see what they really lead him to. 
He appears to see in these troublesome hordes 
of " cyclists " and " Mounted Infantry " who 
menace the old order of things and are forcing 
Cavalry to conform to fire by fire, only auxiliaries 
to the orthodox Cavalry. But Cavalry them- 
selves carry the very weapon which is promoting 
the revolution; nor should any self-respecting, 
properly trained Cavalry need to fortify itself 


from these external sources. At a later stage 
I shall have to show, from our own Mounted 
Infantry Manual, how grotesque are the results 
obtained by the theoretical co-operation of steel 
and fire in two different types of troops. 

And Sir John French ? He has read these 
passages, and with one word of manly pride in 
the war experience of his own countrymen, home 
and colonial experience bought at terrible cost, 
and not without bitter humiliation, in three years 
of " real war " he could set the speculative 
German author right, illuminate the tortuous 
paths in which his reason strays. So far from 
taking this course, he proves himself more 
reactionary than his foreign colleague ; for the 
reader will see at once that the spirit of passages 
quoted above is quite different from the spirit 
of Sir John French's Introduction. Von Bern- 
hardi is alarmed by the prospect of meeting 
mounted riflemen who, as he knows and ex- 
pressly admits, will impose upon his Cavalry 
fire-tactics of which they are contemptuously 
ignorant. He is alarmed at the prospect of the 
hostile Cavalry themselves "conducting the fight 
with the firearm." Sir John French, as I have 
shown, believes, and says, that our mounted 
riflemen and our Cavalry, if they act as such, 
will " become the prey of the first foreign 


Cavalry they meet," running defenceless and 
helpless from the field. This is an example of 
the way in which Cavalry science proceeds, and 
it is a wonder that collaborators of the eminence 
of General von Bernhardi and General Sir John 
French do not see the humour of the thing, to use 
no stronger expression. 

One watches with amusement the process by 
which the German author endeavours to soften 
the shock of the revelations he has just made to 
a Cavalry acutely sensitive about its ancient 
traditions. One of his plans, here and in many 
other parts of the book, is to play with the 
words " offence " and " defence," which, as I 
pointed out in commenting on Sir John French's 
Introduction, have such a strangely perverse 
influence on the Cavalry mind. " It lies deeply 
embedded in human nature," he says (p. 105), 
" that he who feels himself the weaker will act 
on the defensive " ; and on the next page : " In 
general, it may be relied upon that defence will 
be carried out according to tactical defensive 
principles, and that with the firearm." Here is 
another example (italicized by me) : " Mounted, 
the Cavalry knows only the charge, and has no 
defensive power, a circumstance which strengthens 
it in carrying out its offensive principles by relieving 
its leader of the onus of choice " (p. 113). Observe 


the idea suggested by these passages namely, 
that the rifle is only a defensive weapon. Subtle 
indirect flattery of those who carry those terrible 
weapons of " offence," the lance and sword ! 
But, alas ! what he calls the " offensive spirit " 
must accept the terms imposed by the baser 
weapon. " It requires an enormous amount 
of moral strength," he says, " to maintain the 
offensive spirit, even after an unfavourable con- 
flict, and continually to invoke the ultimate 
decision anew." There is a romantic atmosphere 
about this which might appeal to his hearers. 
Spent with charges, brilliant, but perhaps not 
wholly successful, they must resign themselves 
eventually to more sober, if less " knightly," 
methods. But this is not what he really means. 
He has just said that even in combats of the 
independent Cavalry the shock-charge will occur 
only " in exceptional cases." The probable oppo- 
nents are to " advance dismounted " hi other 
words, to attack dismounted. This, he warns the 
Cavalry, will necessitate fire-action on their part. 
Why talk, then, about "relief from the onus of 
choice " ? What is to happen when both sides 
are at grips on terms of fire ? Is there a mutual 
deadlock, both remaining in " defence "? In that 
case there would be no battles and no necessity 
to go to war at all. Surely the common sense of 


the matter is that the rifle rules tactics, and that, 
ceteris paribus, the best riflemen will attack and win. 

At heart the General believes this his whole 
book is a witness to this fact but how can he 
expect to get his beliefs accepted if he continually 
stultifies those beliefs by soothing ambiguities 
about the "offensive spirit "? Nor does he 
confine himself to ambiguity. Take a passage 
like this from p. 19, at the very outset of his 
chapter on " Reconnaissance, Screening, and 
Raids " : " The very essence of Cavalry lies in 
the offensive. Mounted, it is incapable of tactical 
defence, but in order to defend itself, must surrender 
its real character as a mounted arm, and seize 
the rifle on foot." (The italics are mine.) 

Conceive the mental chaos which can pro- 
duce an expression of an opinion like this at 
the beginning of a work designed to reform the 
backward German Cavalry. Here, stated in 
formal, precise terms, is the very doctrine 
upon which that Cavalry works ; which, as the 
author himself a hundred times assures us, is 
the source of all its " antiquated assumptions " 
and of its total unpreparedness for real war. 
The framers of the Regulations have only to 
point to this passage, and then, with perfect 
justice, to consign all the General's tirades first to 
mockery and then to oblivion. Sir John French, 


again more reactionary than his German confrere, 
seizes on this passage, to the exclusion of all 
which contradict it, and triumphantly produces 
his own analogous formula. To neglect the steel, 
he says, is to " invert the role of Cavalry, and 
turn it into a defensive arm." 

While Sir John French sticks to his point, 
and elaborates it even to the implicit denial of 
an offensive spirit to Infantry, General von 
Bernhardi is perfectly conscious of the absurdity 
of maintaining that it is only " in order to defend 
itself " that Cavalry " seize the rifle " on foot. 
We obtain, perhaps, the best insight into his 
method of reasoning in A II. (" Attack and 
Defence "). On p. 112 he says that Cavalry 
should " endeavour to preserve their mobility 
in the fight, and that mounted shock-action, 
therefore, should be regarded as its proper role 
in battle." This quotation is an excellent one 
for the advocates of the steel, but it would reduce 
to impotence any Cavalry which acted upon it. 
And we ask immediately, what is the sense 
of calling shock the " proper role " of Cavalry, 
when, according to the author himself, it is only 
to be used in exceptional cases, even in fights of 
the independent Cavalry, and when riflemen, who 
advance dismounted, can render it impracticable ? 
Why not say at once that the proper or normal 

role of Cavalry is fire-action, and the exceptional 
or abnormal role shock-action ? 

The fallacy, of course, lies in the word I have 
italicized, " therefore," implying that mounted 
action and shock-action are synonymous, and that 
there is no mounted action without shock-action. 
It is natural enough that the author should turn his 
back on South Africa and Manchuria when he has 
to maintain such a proposition as this ; but how 
does he reconcile it even with the facts of the 
American Civil War, which he holds up as the 
most valuable guide to modern Cavalry ? Stuart, 
Sheridan, Wilson, and the other great leaders, would 
have laughed at it, and they used wretchedly 
imperfect firearms. They rode just as far and to 
just as good purpose whether they used the firearm 
or the steel, and they fought to win, with whatever 
weapon was the best weapon at the moment. 

The General himself expresses the right idea 
when he says in another passage " that it is not 
a question whether Cavalrymen should fight 
mounted or dismounted, but whether they are 
prepared and determined to take their share in 
the decision of an encounter, and to employ the 
whole of their strength and mobility to that end." 
That is plain common sense ; but how is he to get 
it acted upon by a Cavalry to whom the very idea 
is strange if he calls shock the " proper role " of 


Cavalry, and contrasts the " offensive spirit " 
inherent in it with the defensive use of the rifle ? 
Yet he redeems the rifle handsomely enough in 
numbers of other passages. " It must be kept in 
view," he says on p. 113, "that it is the offensive 
on foot that the Cavalry will require," and he 
condemns the Regulation which inculcates the 
opposite principle and deals with the fire-fight 
only as a method of action from which Cavalry 
" need not shrink." He shakes his head gravely 
over the ominous suggestion in the same Regula- 
tion that cyclists and Infantry in waggons are to 
be added to the Army Cavalry, in order, by fire, 
to " overcome local resistance." In a flash of 
insight he perceives the possibility of those 
heretical Mounted Infantry masquerading as 
the hostile Cavalry, and necessitating cyclists 
and Infantry in waggons to dislodge them before 
the " knightly combats " can be brought about. 
"It is a matter of significance," he solemnly 
observes, " that Infantry in waggons may be de- 
tailed to accompany the strategic Army Cavalry." 
There will soon be a demand, he prophesies, 
" for Infantry from the Army Cavalry when there 
is any question of a serious attack on foot, and 
herewith the free action of the Cavalry will be 
limited once and for all." Is there no lesson 
from South Africa here ? 


The fact is that the kind of thing he fears 
happened from the first, and continued to happen 
until the Cavalry abandoned steel weapons and 
became mounted riflemen. During the first 
year of the war there was no independent 
Cavalry force operating strategically without 
the assistance of mounted riflemen. There 
could not have been, because the fire-power 
of the Cavalry was insufficient, and there is 
and can be no independence in modern war 
without a high degree of fire-power. Cavalry 
leaders usually asked also for the tactical assist- 
ance of mounted riflemen. The theory, surviving 
even now in the current manuals, was that those 
troops were to form a " pivot " for the shock- 
action of Cavalry. The theory, of course, was 
exploded from the first, and sometimes the 
mounted riflemen became the most effective 
and mobile portion of the composite force. 
Mounted riflemen were a truly independent Arm. 
They never asked for the assistance of Cavalry 
on the ground that Cavalry carried steel weapons. 
The rifle was all they cared about, and they had 
good rifles of their own. while the Cavalry had 
bad carbines. The only big independent Cavalry 
enterprise during the first year of the war the 
divisional march across the Eastern Transvaal 
in October, 1900 was a fiasco. The Cavalry 


formed but an escort to their own transport, and 
developed no offensive power. 

Von Bernhardi, just now thoroughly in his 
fire-mood, strongly condemns the theory of depen- 
dence on other Arms, which will " tie the Cavalry " 
to the very troops from which they expect support. 
" The army Cavalry, then, can only preserve its 
independence if it can rely upon its own strength 
even hi an attack on foot." He goes on to 
criticize Regulation No. 456, which lays down 
that " Cavalry must endeavour to bring dis- 
mounted attacks to a conclusion with the utmost 
rapidity, so that they may regain their mobility 
at the earliest possible moment." The regula- 
tion, which has its counterpart hi the British 
Manual, indeed, is laughable to anyone who has 
seen modern war. Troopers who spend 90 per 
cent, of their time on exercises with the steel will 
necessarily attack badly, clumsily, and slowly on 
foot, and it is a cruel jest to tell them to attack 
quickly and brilliantly. In a fire-contest the best 
riflemen will attack the quickest and do the best. 

But the General wastes his breath in scolding 
the Regulations. They are more logical than he 
is, because they do not seriously contemplate this 
derogatory work of fire. He says, indeed, that 
unnaturally accelerated attacks on foot by men 
who do not know how to attack on foot only 



succeed in peace, and will " lead inevitably to 
defeat in war," and that to set a time limit to a 
fire-attack is absurd ; but by interspersing qualify- 
ing phrases about loss of mobility and loss of 
time he himself nullifies his own warnings. " The 
result of an attack on foot," he says (p. 116), 
" must, of course, justify the lives expended and 
the time occupied, which must both be regarded as 
lost in estimating the further operative value of the 
force" Men who read that will say : " Why 
waste tune at all, then ?" It is in flagrant contra- 
diction, of course, with his previously expressed 
principle that hostile fire imposes fire-action on 
Cavalry ; that there is no choice ; that, whether 
they like it or not, they must engage in this role, 
which, nevertheless, is not their " proper role." 
The clue to the confusion, as always, is his view, 
founded on mere word-play, that mounted action 
is unthinkable without shock with steel weapons. 
At the end of this section on " Attack and 
Defence " he continues to play into the hands of 
the framers of the Regulations which he denounces. 
Here is an immortal phrase : " The same holds 
good of the defence. Cavalry will only undertake 
this when absolutely obliged" This is the kind of 
maxim which one finds scattered broadcast 
through Cavalry literature as if there could be 
any offence without defence, between or against 


whatever classes of soldiers. Fancy telling 
Infantry or Artillery in so many words that they 
should only undertake defence when absolutely 
obliged ! And yet they are just as much offensive 
Arms as Cavalry, and by the light of historical 
facts during the last century a great deal more so. 

I need not go into the reason again. The 
General is in his steel-mood, and is unconsciously 
limiting offence to the steel weapons. The next 
instant he is in his fire-mood, pointing out that, 
however much Cavalry hi defence may yearn once 
more for " free movement " (he means shock), 
they must be prepared on occasion to defend 
themselves i.e., with fire to the last man. And 
he very aptly illustrates from the Manchurian 
War (which at an earlier point he had said to be 
without interest for Cavalry), pointing to the 
stubborn defence of Sandepu by a Japanese 
Cavalry Brigade. We cannot help wishing that 
Sir John French would quote and confirm an 
opinion like this, flatly contradicted though it is 
a little later,* and use his influence to erase 
from our own Cavalry Manual (p. 215) that 
disastrous injunction that the defences of a position 
which Cavalry have to hold should be " limited 
to those of the simplest kind." 

If the words " attack " and " defence " have a 
* See infra, pp. 122-123. 


fatal fascination for both the German and the 
British authors, General von Bernhardi is equally 
influenced by another verbal formula, and that 
is " the combination of Cavalry combat " (or, 
what is the same thing to him, mounted combat 
that is, shock-combat) " with dismounted fight- 
ing." " The role of Cavalry in the fight will then 
apparently consist," he says on page 106, " of a 
combination of the various methods of fighting." 
It is a tempting formula, tempting by its very 
vagueness, and calculated on that account to 
appeal, perhaps, to the less hopelessly conservative 
German Cavalry officers ; but it remains through- 
out his book literally a formula. How the thing 
is to be done in practice, how shock is to be " com- 
bined " with fire, he never attempts, even from 
a speculative point of view, to explain. It may 
sound perhaps easy enough. In the war of 1861- 
1865, which he professes to take as his model, 
it undoubtedly was possible, if by no means easy. 
But tunes have changed. The modern rifle, 
whose profound influence on combat he admits, 
has made impossible the old formations. In his 
own phrase, it has revolutionized war. It enforces 
a degree of extension which renders impracticable 
those sudden transformations to close mass which 
alone can lead to shock, while the zone of danger 
it creates is so far-reaching that these mass forma- 


tions on horseback cannot subsist. The con- 
ditions which used to permit leaders to resolve 
on shock have vanished. The fire-zone used to 
be so limited that bodies of Cavalry could hang on 
its outer limit, and seize the rare opportunities 
which might arise for a short gallop ending in 
shock. Now we have to deal with artillery and 
rifles of immense range and deadliness. And if 
by a miracle you do get into close quarters in your 
mass formation, you find crowning disillusion- 
ment ! nothing solid on which to exert shock. 
You used to find it a century ago, because men 
used to fight in close order, but science has 
altered that. However, that point does not im- 
mediately arise from the question of " combina- 
tion." The narrow issue there is how to effect 
the transition from fire to shock, and there is not 
a word in this volume to elucidate the point. 
There is not a word in our own Cavalry Manual. 
The thing has never been done in modern war. 
The combination of shock and fire tactics is an 
academical speculation. What we know is that 
shock has failed, and that the open-order rifle- 
charge, which has superseded the shock-charge, 
is evolved naturally from the fire-fight. You 
must, in the words of Lord Roberts, fight up to the 
charge, if charge there be ; but you can win, as In- 
fantry can win, without any mounted charge at all. 



("Das rein reiterliche Gefecht.") 

THESE two sections which I have been criticizing 
will give the reader a general idea of the way in 
which von Bernhardi regards the action of Cavalry 
in modern war, and of the perplexities which be- 
set him through mingling of the old philosophy and 
the new. Let us follow him through subsequent 
sections of head B (" Action of Cavalry "). 
The third section deals with " Cavalry in 
combat against the various Arms, mounted and 
dismounted," and he first deals with what he 
calls the " purely Cavalry fight," which he 
now assumes to be a fight with the steel against 
other Cavalry. We must remember that if either 
side elects to use the rifle ; or if the ground is 
unsuitable (and on page 201 he argues at length 
that " possible European theatres of war are but 
little suitable for charges," and that suitable areas 
are only found in peace by deliberate selection) ; 


or if either side, from numerical weakness or 
choice, is acting on the " defensive " (defence with 
the steel being ex hypothesi impossible), this steel 
combat will not take place. 

Under the circumstances it seems scarcely worth 
while to talk about it, but let us waive that 
objection. We at once become impressed with 
a very remarkable fact namely, that after all 
the centuries, extending far back into the mists 
of time, during which the mounted steel-combat 
has been used, its most learned and enthusiastic 
advocates cannot at this day agree upon the 
elementary rules for its conduct. Observe that 
I am excluding the modifications caused by 
missile weapons. Following the author, I am 
assuming a combat between two bodies of 
Cavalry who decline to use their firearms, and 
mutually agree to collide with steel weapons on 
horseback, outside the zone of fire, on a piece of 
level ground without physical obstruction. For 
this type of combat the conditions are the same 
as in the year one. The three factors horse, 
man, and steel weapon have undergone no 
appreciable change, and by this time the rules 
ought to be fixed. Yet we find the General at 
once falling into tirades against erroneous systems, 
and bitterly denouncing the Regulations of his 
own Army. 


"The lance," we learn on page 267, "is the 
Cavalryman's most important weapon," yet the 
drill laid down for the lance the author declares 
to be worthless. " No one would fight in this 
manner in war ; how this is to be done our men 
are not really taught." What a confession after 
all these ages, from the Crusades onwards ! And 
if the lance is really the most important weapon, 
and if Sir John French really believes, as he says 
he believes, hi the infallibility of General von 
Bernhardi, why has he not seen to it that all 
British Cavalry regiments are armed with lances ? 
It would seem to be mad folly to permit our 
Hussars to go into battle destitute of there " most 
important weapon." But let us look a little 
closer into the characteristics of this terrible 
weapon. On page 175 we learn that " in the 
close turmoil of the fight it is very difficult to 
handle with success, besides which it easily 
becomes unserviceable on striking an object too 
heavily. Should it pierce a body at the full speed 
of a horse's gallop, it will generally bend on being 
drawn out (if, indeed, the rider in his haste extri- 
cates it at all), and then becomes unserviceable." 
So there must be a sword also, which is to be 
drawn, apparently, on the instant after the 
impalement of the first hostile horseman. Our 
own authorities take a brighter view. In their 


Manual the trooper is bidden to impale the foe 
through and through with his lance, but he is to 
" withdraw it with ease from the object into which 
it has been driven." On the other hand, the object 
in question is to be represented in peace by a 
sack filled with chopped hay or a clay dummy, 
neither of them objects of a texture quite ade- 
quate to the purpose (see " Cavalry Training," 
pp. 309-310). 

It is almost cruel to lift the veil from these 
domestic mysteries and differences, and, indeed, I 
am almost afraid my readers will suspect me of 
quoting, not from eulogies, but from skits on the 
arme blanche. But the words are there for any- 
one who cares to look them up, and I ask, is not 
it almost inconceivable that serious soldiers in 
the year of grace 1911, when war is a really serious 
matter of scientific weapons, should solemnly call 
a weapon with such characteristics the most 
important weapon of the Cavalryman ? Need- 
less to say, the author himself refutes his own 
proposition in a hundred passages of this very 
work. But Sir John French ignores those pas- 
sages, and in his own Introduction pens a warm 
defence of the lance ; though whether he believes 
in the " pin-prick policy " which the German 
authority seems to advocate, or in the plan of 
" striking the object heavily " at all costs, he does 


not inform us. After all, it matters little. The 
taxpayer need not quail at the expense of pro- 
viding fresh lances to every regiment after every 
charge. The rest of the world looks on with 
languid interest while the Cavalry authorities 
carry on their solemn controversies as to the 
relative merits of steel weapons used from horse- 
back. Even in the Franco-German War the 
killing effect of lances and swords was negligible. 
Six Germans were killed by the sabre, and perhaps 
as many by the lance. Of the total of 218 German 
casualties from the sabre and clubbed musket, 
138 were in the Cavalry, whose total losses by fire 
and steel combined were 2,236. In the great 
civilized wars since the invention of the smokeless 
magazine rifle the casualties from lance and 
sword have reached vanishing-point. 

But if lances and swords are harmless to the 
enemy, they are emphatically harmful to those 
who carry them. They not only inspire the wrong 
spirit, but they mean extra weight and additional 
visibility. Sir John French (p. xvi) cheerfully defies 
physical laws. He scouts the idea that " a thin 
bamboo pole will reveal the position of a mounted 
man to the enemy." That is one of the fond illu- 
sions of peace. And in peace even a short-sighted 
layman could prove the contrary by ocular 
demonstration, and digest the moral, too, by 


watching Lancers operating among the lanes and 
hedges of England. In war there are field-glasses 
and bullets. 

It is the same with tactics as with weapons. 
The German author is for the knee-to-knee riding 
of Frederick the Great, as opposed to the looser 
stirrup-to-stirrup riding which has been intro- 
duced because " the modern firearm obliges us to 
take refuge in broken country, where the closest 
touch cannot always be kept." A pretty sound 
reason, we should imagine, but the General will 
have none of it, and I think this passage is the 
only one in the book where he disagrees with the 
Regulations in the matter of a concession to the 
modern rifle. Generally it is the other way, and, 
indeed, it is a most bizarre paradox to hear him 
calling upon the shades of " Frederick the Great, 
Seydlitz, and the prominent Napoleonic leaders," 
after saying at the beginning of the book that the 
wars of these heroes " presented a total absence of 
analogy " to modern Cavalry students. Reverting 
suddenly to common sense, he goes on to denounce 
the rally from the melee, which all Cavalry, 
including our own, assiduously practise in peace. 
The motive for this wonderful manoeuvre is " that 
troops may quickly be got in hand ready to be 
led against a fresh foe." "It is astounding," he 
complains, " that we should give way to such 


self-deception." Rallies are " delightfully easy in 
peace," but an " absolute impossibility in war." 

The troops who have charged are apparently to 
be useless for any purpose whatever for an in- 
definite period, and strong supporting squadrons 
immediately behind them must carry on the 
fight. But the new Regulations do not allow for 
these supports. What do they enjoin ? We are 
not told here, and have to look in another part 
of the book under " Depth and Echelon " (p. 221 
et seq.), when, calling once more upon Frederick 
the Great and Napoleon, he attacks in un- 
measured terms, as the offspring of mere " peace 
requirements," the German system of echelon 
formation, which leads to " tactical orgies " at 
manoeuvres. Echelon apparently is designed to 
permit of easy changes of front, but in war the 
opportunity for such changes " never literally 
never occurs." And yet somehow we sympa- 
thize with the framers of the Regulations. Read 
their inimitable disquisition on echelon, quoted 
as a footnote on page 224. " In the collisions of 
Cavalry " there is going to be " uncertainty as to 
the strength and intentions of the enemy." But 
Cavalry acting against Cavalry (supposing, we 
wonder, they turn out not to be Cavalry ?) never 
demean themselves by dismounting to recon- 
noitre. Thev reconnoitre for one another hi 


mass, and gain the necessary " flexibility " by 
echelon if need be, by a double echelon. When 
they find the enemy, they can at the last moment, 
if necessary, change front completely, and have 
at them. " If this did occur," says the General, 
" it would presuppose the entire failure of recon- 
naissance, and the corresponding incapacity of 
the leader." He proceeds to a pitiless exposure 
of the puerilities and unrealities of the system ; 
but, to tell the truth, the exposure excites only 
a feeble interest. Insensibly he trenches on the 
realms of fire, and immediately stultifies his own 
appeals to Frederick the Great and Napoleon. 
After pages of obscure lucubration about Cavalry 
combat, he suddenly envisages (p. 230) what is, 
of course, the hi variable case, when " total un- 
certainty prevails as to whether the combat will 
be carried out mounted or dismounted," and says 
that in such cases there can be no " stereotyped 
tactical formations either of units or of smaller 
bodies within them." " Cad it quaestio," we ex- 
claim, with relief. Why appeal to Frederick the 
Great ? 

In "Formations for Movement" (pp. 232-238) 
he continues his unconscious reductio ad ahsurdum 
of shock. " Movements in such close formation 
right up to the moment of deployment " (and he 
describes those enjoined by the Regulations) 


" cannot go unpunished upon a modern battle- 
field." The Regulations " cannot be regarded as 
practical," and are " pretexts for hidebound 
drill enthusiasts." It is all very well, but these 
hidebound gentlemen are perfectly right in their 
own way. They are following his own models, 
Frederick the Great and Napoleon, in whose days 
such movements were perfectly possible. They 
believe hi shock and minimize fire, and their Regu- 
lations, if unpractical, are at least logical. 


So much for the "purely Cavalry fight." We 
come on page 128 to the mounted charge upon 
dismounted riflemen, whom, in the manner usual 
with Cavalry writers, he assumes to be Infantry, 
though it is obvious, of course, that they may 
be unconventional Cavalry, who, from a sense 
of fun or a sane instinct for fighting, have 
determined to play a practical joke on devotees 
of the pure faith. Here both he and the Regula- 
tions are up to a certain point in harmony with 
one another. As a concession to modern condi- 
tions, the charge is to be in extended order. Here 
the General has changed his views since writing 
" Cavalry hi Future Wars." There the principles 
of Frederick the Great were supreme in all 


charges, with just a faint concession towards a 
" loosening of the files " in a charge against 
Infantry. Now " wide intervals " are to be em- 
ployed. Sir John French ignores the change of view 
on an absolutely vital point of tactics, but allows 
us to infer that he, one of the very men who saw 
the imperative necessity for the new view, favours 
the old view ; for he described von Bernhardi's 
first book as absolutely complete and faultless. 
To return, however, to the German author. It is 
amazing that, having reached this point, he should 
not trouble to investigate the phenomena of 
modern war with a view to finding out what actu- 
ally happens in an extended change of this sort. 
He writes in the clouds, just as though there were 
not a mass of experience bearing on the point. 

The experience, which a child can understand, 
amounts to this : If you extend, and, a fortiori, 
if your enemy is extended also, you lose all hope 
of " shock," that is, of physical impact ; and 
with the loss of this impact you lose the funda- 
mental condition precedent to the successful use 
of steel weapons on horseback the condition 
which Frederick the Great's leaders had, but 
which ours have not. You also lose momentum, 
speed, because the modern rifle, by immensely 
widening the bullet-swept zone, necessitates a 
far longer gallop for the charging force. The 


German Regulations realize this, for they enjoin 
a slower pace, expressly on the ground that 
" impact " is not to be aimed at. Very well : 
no shock ; comparatively low speed. What is 
going to happen ? Your steel charge is useless. 
Individual troopers, bound by their code of 
honour to remain in the saddle, and pitted 
against individual riflemen on foot, are helpless, 
an object of derision to gods and men. Our 
own Infantry Manual openly treats them as 
helpless and negligible, and in a few curt lines 
gives directions, proved in war to be sound, for the 
event of such a charge, should it take place. 

But, in fact, it does not take place. Our 
Cavalry in South Africa had literally thousands 
of chances of making such charges, supposing 
that they were feasible. But they were not; 
instinctively the leaders felt that they were 
not, and ceased to think of making them. At the 
tune when, if ever, any given leader should 
have made up his mind to charge, he was, unfor- 
tunately, as a general rule, in that condition of 
painful " uncertainty as to the strength and 
intentions of the enemy," to which the German 
Regulations allude. He could not, in the German 
fashion, ride about in mass to reconnoitre, because 
the Boers, perversely refusing to believe in the 
tactics of Frederick the Great, did not co-operate 


in the game. He had, therefore, the choice 
between idleness and fire-action. He chose 
fire-action, and once engaged in fire-action, he 
found that he had to stick to it. It was physically 
impossible to " combine " fire-action and steel- 
action, even if there had been an opening for 
steel-action, which there was not. That is the 
whole story, and Sir John French, if he chose, 
could tell General von Bernhardi all about it. 

I believe Sir John French himself never saw 
a Boer or British mounted riflemen's charge, but 
he ought to know the evidence on the point ; it 
is extensive and precise.* It goes to show that it 
is sometimes possible, even against the modern 
rifle, to charge in widely extended order, even at 
a canter, and even into close quarters, on horse- 
back ; but it can be done only by fighting up to 
the charge hi the normal way of fire-action, and 
by casting to the winds the ancient notion that it 
is beneath a trooper to dismount. Sooner or 
later he has got to dismount, so as to use effective 
aimed fire against the riflemen opposed to him. 
They will not mind his sword, whose range is a 
couple of yards, while their weapon is of any range 
you please, and squirts bullets Mke a hose. 

Frederick the Great's Infantry firearm was 
another matter. Even in 1861-1865, as von Bern- 

* See "War and the Arme Blanche," Chapter XI. 



hardi would discover if he cared to look close 
enough into his own chosen war, steel-charges 
by Cavalry against Infantry eventually became 
extinct. The Confederate Infantry used to jeer 
at the futile efforts of the Federal Cavalry. 

Needless to say, the German Regulations only 
touch the fringe of what is practicable. It is 
only the leading line, they lay down, and not 
necessarily the whole even of that, which is to 
adopt wide intervals. Von Bernhardi easily 
shows the folly of these half -measures, and of 
the " arbitrary assumption that a line of Cavalry 
1,500 or 2,000 yards wide can cross a mile of 
country stirrup to stirrup at the regulation pace 
of the charge " (p. 128). 

We pass to the dismounted attack by Cavalry, 
and the reader will realize now, if he has not 
before, that it is due to unfamiliarity with the 
technique and true possibilities of fire-action 
that the General clings to the discredited tactics 
of Frederick the Great in defiance of his professed 
enthusiasm for the rifle. For the dismounted 
attack by Cavalry, " the principles," he says, " are 
the same as for an attack by Infantry " (p. 133). 
But the led horses render the business " consider- 
ably more difficult." " There is also a certain 


difference according as the opponent is Cavalry 
or Infantry " ; for in the former case he may 
charge your led horses. It is here and in the pages 
which follow that the reader can get the clearest 
insight into the mental attitude of Cavalrymen 
towards that arbiter of modern war, the rifle. 

All turns on the magical word " Cavalry," 
which derives its significance from the arme 
blanche. Those weapons give Cavalry their 
" proper role." If under stress of fire they 
" abandon " this role, they become Infaiitry ; 
but they are worse off than Infantry, because 
they are embarrassed by their led horses, which 
present difficulties from which Infantry are free. 
The horse becomes a danger and an encumbrance, 
just as Sir John French tacitly assumes it 
to become, when he says that mounted riflemen 
always flee defenceless before good Cavalry, 
while Infantry show " tenacity and stiffness." 
No wonder, then, that Cavalrymen grow indignant 
at the criticism of their steel weapons. It is 
bad enough to be converted into a hybrid between 
good Cavalry and bad Infantry, but it is worse 
still to undergo a metamorphosis into a pure type 
of bad Infantry, that is, into mounted riflemen. 

If we once grasp this point of view, we bring 
light into this tangled controversy, and we can 
bring into sharp contrast the rational point of 


view, as the facts of war demonstrate it. We 
perceive instantly the falsity of the antithesis 
between the weapon and the horse. The mounted 
rifleman is a foot rifleman plus a horse, and the 
horse is not an embarrassing encumbrance, but 
a source of enhanced power. It is the intrusion 
of the steel weapons, not the intrusion of the 
horses, which introduces "difficulties." Witness 
von Bernhardi's own scathing exposure of the 
German Regulations for combat with the steel. 

Space forbids me to follow him far into his 
remarks upon his bugbear, the led horses. There 
are probably about 150,000 persons now living 
who, by war experience, know more than he 
does about this purely technical question ; yet 
he spins feverish dreams about it out of his own 
brain, without a glance at the rich and varied 
material provided by three years of war in South 
Africa ; without a glance at Manchuria, where 
the Japanese Cavalry converted themselves into 
excellent mounted riflemen ; without a glance 
even at the American methods of 1861-1865, 
where the problems that worry him were success- 
fully solved. As usual, he has no difficulty in 
exposing the absurdities of the Regulations, but 
his own comments and suggestions are sometimes 
even less admissible. Behind the incubus of 
the horse we perceive that additional incubus, 


the lance. He pictures the unhappy horse- 
holders wrestling ("a practical impossibility ") 
with armfuls of lances, as the Regulations bid 
them (p. 137), and .concludes that if you are to 
make these men guardians, not only of the horses, 
but of these precious but exacting impedimenta, 
it will not do to detail only one man out of four 
to act as horseholder. On the other hand, if 
you detach more, you weaken the firing line so 
much that the whole business becomes scarcely 
worth while. And yet, if you don't weaken 
the firing line, how are you to guard the led 
horses against attack from some other quarter ? 
They, it appears, must have a complete firing 
line of their own. But, disregarding this necessity, 
the Regulations contemplate reinforcing the main 
firing-line from the horse-holders (p. 139), so 
making the armfuls of lances still bigger. And 
then what is to happen if, in a " real fight," the 
brigade wants to advance and the Brigadier is 
told it can't, because some of the horse-holders 
are fighting, and the lance-encumbered remnant 
cannot move ? And so on. He seems, so far 
as I understand him, eventually to throw up hi 
despair the problem of keeping the led horses 
" mobile," and to fall back on the plan of 
" immobility," a plan which he himself in several 
passages admits can be used only when there is 

no likelihood whatever of any sudden call upon 
the led horses either for advance or retreat. If 
the Regulations, as he says, are "not suitable for 
real war," neither is his counsel of despair. The 
chapter is quite enough to cure the most liberal- 
minded Cavalryman of his last lingering inclination 
towards fire-action, even though he is told that 
fire-action must be used in all but " exceptional 
cases." " Abandon my proper role for this ?" 
he might answer. "No. My proper role is 
good enough for me, as it was good enough for 
Frederick the Great." 

There is worse to come ; but let me comment 
here upon the astounding fact that Sir John 
French should regard chapters like this as sound 
instruction for war. Our Cavalry profess, at any 
rate, to have now solved the lance-problem during 
fire-action by their latest method of carrying the 
lance. But that is a minor point. It is the ignor- 
ance of, and pessimism towards, fire-action, as 
disclosed in this and subsequent chapters, which 
ought chiefly to strike English readers. And all 
Sir John French has to say is that " we expose our 
ignorance and conceit " in accepting the teach- 
ing of our own war experience, and that our duty 
is to assimilate the best foreign customs. 




FROM his general remarks on the action of 
Cavalry, mounted or dismounted, against the 
various Arms, mounted or dismounted, the author 
passes to " IV. The Fight of the Independent 
Cavalry " (p. 141), and the reader almost at once 
finds himself straying in a fog caused by the 
author's refusal to face straightforwardly the 
simple dominant fact that " Cavalry " are also 
riflemen. What does " Independent " mean ? 
One would naturally assume it to mean what it 
means in our own Cavalry's phraseology, the 
" strategical " Cavalry which operates on a self- 
supporting independent basis, as distinguished 
from the divisional Cavalry, which is attached to, 
and dependent on, the various Infantry divisions. 
And this is the signification which the author 
gives to it in the opening words of the chapter. 
" Such fights," he says, " will occur during the 
offensive reconnaissance of the Cavalry, in 


screening, and in enterprises against the enemy's 
communication and lines of approach " (that is, 
in raids), functions which are classified in the 
same order in the early part of the book as the 
normal functions of the Independent Cavalry, 
operating, in the first instance at any rate, 
against a hostile Independent Cavalry of the 
same stamp and vested with corresponding func- 
tions. We expect, accordingly, to hear a great 
deal about the "purely Cavalry fight," or shock- 
combat ; but, to our bewilderment, after less 
than a page of exceedingly obscure reference 
to the " exceptional cases," where, owing to the 
absence of " other arms," such combats occur, 
the author proceeds to examine what he evidently 
regards as the normal case, " when the co-opera- 
tion of other arms can seriously be counted on," 
and the whole of the forty-eight pages which 
follow implicitly assume that other Arms, whether 
in the shape of Artillery, Infantry, cyclists, or 
what he vaguely calls " partisans," are present. 
Artillery alone are enough, he says, to scatter 
to the winds " purely Cavalry tactical principles," 
and " to set the stamp of fire upon the develop- 
ment of the fight " (p. 144). The unfortunate 
Cavalry subaltern must feel the ground sinking 
under his feet. The book he is studying, 
" Cavalry in War and Peace," is a treatise for 

Cavalry on purely Cavalry tactical principles, 
and yet these principles cease to exist if even 
Artillery are on the scene, as in most normal cases 
it is assumed to be on the scene. Both in Germany 
and in England Horse Artillery is a recognized 
and integral part of the Independent Cavalry 
force whose functions the author is now con- 
sidering. What is more, rifles are an invariable 
factor in the same force, German or English, or, 
indeed, in any force of Cavalry of whatever size, 
and however engaged, because they are carried 
by the Cavalry troopers themselves. And rifles, 
as the author will soon explain, make still worse 
havoc of purely Cavalry tactical principles. In 
other words, there are no such principles. 

We may cut the matter short by merely ad- 
vising the reader to solve his perplexities in 
the succeeding chapters by substituting for the 
word "Cavalry," whenever it occurs, the words 
" mounted riflemen," which, steel weapons apart, 
are what Cavalry are. There he will have a key 
to most of the contradictions and ambiguities, 
and can form his own opinion on the lucidity 
and force of the injunctions laid down. The 
truth is that the General, in speaking of " other 
arms," really means not only other Arms of 
the service (i.e., Infantry and Artillery), but 
other weapons, as distinguished from lances and 


swords, carried by Cavalry themselves that is, 

Armed with this clue, let us begin. 

We must classify, says the author, with his 
critical eye on the Regulations, " for if we take 
all the various principles evolved from different 
tactical situations, and jumble them illogically 
together, or discuss them from points of view 
which are not closely based on the probable 
happenings of reality, we run a danger of confusing 
the judgment instead of clearing it." He pro- 
ceeds himself to involve our judgments in 
irremediable confusion. 

First of all, fights, according to the old phrase, 
are either offensive or defensive. Offensive 
fights are of two sorts : " battles of encoun- 
ter," where the " enemy is also pressing forward," 
and "attacks against localities or positions." 
Defensive fights are of only one main character : 
they require the defence of localities, positions, 
and defiles. Then, in quite a separate category, 
comes a third class of fights namely, " surprises, 
which merit separate consideration " a con- 
sideration, it may be noted, that they never get. 
The author forgets all about them. It matters 
little. His classification as it stands is as far 
removed from the " happenings of reality " 
as any classification could be ; and to divorce 


surprise, generally supposed to be the soul of 
all mounted action (because horses mean high 
mobility) from " battles of encounter," " attacks 
on localities," and other sorts of fights, is only 
to supply the crowning element of unreality. 
It must be remembered that his most compre- 
hensive classification (of which the above is a 
subdivision) distinguishes between " the fight 
of the Independent Cavalry " and the " action 
of Cavalry in battle," by which latter phrase he 
means the great battle of all Arms ; and that 
battle, he has said, is " always of a pre-arranged 
nature " that is, lacking in opportunities for 
surprise. One would have imagined, therefore, 
that if he wanted an antithesis between surprise 
and something else, he would oppose the pre- 
arranged battle to the fight of the Independent 
Cavalry. Not so. " Surprises " are left out in 
the cold and eventually forgotten. 

And what of these other sorts of fights defined 
under their various heads ? Perhaps I had 
better take them in detail, rather than attempt 
a general diagnosis. 

What is the battle of encounter ? I have 
collected all the allusions I can find to this battle, 
in the hope of supplying an intelligible definition, 
but have to admit failure. On page 102 it is 
distinguished from an "arranged affair," a distinc- 


tion which in peace suggests those carefully- 
planned " knightly combats " on level pieces of 
ground, but which in war does not carry us very 
far. On page 147, however, the special case of 
a battle of encounter where " an opponent is 
unexpectedly met with," receives separate con- 
sideration. On page 142 it seems to denote the 
case " where the enemy is also pressing for- 
ward," again a somewhat nebulous description, 
for it is the common way of enemies to press 
forward. On page 143 one thinks for a moment 
that it is to be confined to " lesser bodies of 
Cavalry, unaccompanied by other arms " ; but 
one speedily finds allusion to " larger bodies of 
Cavalry, accompanied by a proportion of other 
arms," and the co-operation of other arms 
becomes the predominant feature of the whole 
discussion. Yet on page 194, in discussing the 
action of the army Cavalry on the flank of a 
great battle, the author speaks of a battle of 
encounter between the rival Cavalry masses, as 
though this type of fight were confined to 
Cavalry. Again, on page 154 it is held to include 
the passage of defiles, though the defence of 
defiles, a function which is the necessary counter- 
part of the passage of defiles, is, as we have seen, 
regarded as belonging to a separate type of combat. 
We have noted also the distinction between 


the battles of encounter and " attacks of 
localities," and between these latter and the 
defence of localities (as though there were any 
antithesis between an encounter on the one 
hand and an attack or defence on the other !). 
But what is a " locality," an attack on which is 
distinguished from a battle of encounter ? Here 
is a fresh mystery. A " locality," on page 174, is 
distinguished from a " prepared position," which 
Cavalry, he says here, are never to attack or 
defend,* and it appears, in fact, to be simply 
a place on which troops are (a " place within the 
meaning of the Act," we cannot help exclaiming). 
In the first words of the section on " Attack of 
Localities " this attack is explained as one upon 
" an enemy who takes up a defensive attitude." 

If, therefore, hi a battle of encounter, when 
both sides are " pressing forward," one side or 
the other halts temporarily (without preparing 

* " With them [the Cavalry] it will never be a case of 
prepared positions which Cavalry as a rule will neither 
attack nor defend but of actions resulting from a battle of 

This is directly contradicted on p. 342, where it is laid down 
that " attacks on an enemy in position," as explicitly dis- 
tinguished from " battles of encounter," are said to be " very 
necessary in time of war, " and should be repeatedly practised " 
in peace. The same injunction is repeated on pp. 343 and 345. 

This is a typical example of the textual self-contradictions 
in which the book abounds. 


or entrenching a position), the other side is in the 
position of attacking a locality ; and if the former 
party repulses the attack and resumes its advance, 
then the position is reversed. Or if there is a 
temporary equilibrium in the fight, when neither 
party can make headway, then both are attacking 
and both are defending localities. But some such 
phenomena as these are common to all combats. 
Where, then, is the battle of encounter ? 

This is no idle question, and these are no hair- 
splitting criticisms, because the rules are held 
to differ in important respects in these various 
types of combats. In the battle of encounter 
there are some exceedingly dim indications of 
an opening for the steel, but an attack upon a 
" locality " " can obviously only be carried out 
dismounted " (p. 165). Pass by the old fallacious 
antagonism between mounted action and rifle 
action, and regard the essence of this proposition. 
Once again you have the refutation of the steel 
theory. The sentence means " fire governs com- 
bat." He who fires compels his enemy to accept 
combat on terms of fire. 

But " Where am I ?" the harassed student 
may exclaim. " What of these steel-charges 
against extended Infantry (and, by inference, 
against dismounted Cavalry), whose fire enforced 
extension in the attacking Cavalry ?" Well, let 


him read on. There is hope yet. For imme- 
diately after saying that an attack upon an enemy 
who takes up a defensive attitude can obviously 
only be carried out dismounted, he adds the 
sinister words : " It must be a matter, therefore, 
for serious consideration, whether such an opera- 
tion shall be undertaken or not." The truth is 
that he has suddenly remembered those tiresome 
led horses. " There must be considerable 
numerical superiority to insure success." There 
must be a dismounted reserve for fire purposes, 
and a mounted reserve to secure the safety of 
the led horses, and "for reconnaissance and 
for operating against the enemy's flank and 
rear"; and then follows an acrimonious wrangle 
with the Regulations on the question of making 
one reserve, and that mounted, perform incom- 
patible and contradictory functions. But, as 
usual, our sympathies are with the Regulations. 

" Should the Cavalry commander not have 
at his disposal sufficient force to meet all these 
demands," says the General, " he will be generally 
better advised to abstain from the attack and to 
carry out his mission in some other manner. ..." 
" It is only when conscious of great moral and 
tactical superiority, or when there is any prospect 
of surprising the enemy, that an attack should 
be dared without the necessary numerical pre- 


ponderance " (p. 166). In other words, after his 
reductio ad absurdum of the steel, the writer in the 
next breath proceeds to an equally conclusive re- 
ductio ad absurdum of the rifle. Any Cavalry 
leader who acted on the General's principles would 
be instantly sent home in disgrace. According 
to these principles, numerically equal bodies of 
Cavalry cannot fight one another at all unless 
hi those "exceptional cases " where the ground 
is favourable for the " purely Cavalry fight," 
when there are no other Arms to complicate 
the situation, and where neither side even for 
a moment " takes up a defensive attitude " for 
any purpose whatever. If any one of these 
conditions is unsatisfied, the numerically equal 
forces are mutually paralyzed, and each must 
seek to " carry out its mission hi some other 
manner." But, alas ! by hypothesis there is 
no other manner. " The attack obviously can only 
be made dismounted." Presumably, then, these 
Cavalries are to do nothing at all hi modern war. 
I am not making an unfair use of isolated pas- 
sages. In later portions of his work the General 
frequently repeats his warnings against fire-action 
without great numerical and moral superiority, 
though not, perhaps, so frequently and emphatic- 
ally as he inveighs against impracticable shock- 
action. Under " VIII. The Various Units in the 


Fight " (p. 239), we learn that a " squadron is 
generally too weak to carry out an offensive fight 
on foot." By the tune you have abstracted horse- 
holders, " mounted and dismounted reserves," 
and " patrols and sentries," there is nothing left 
with which to fight. Similarly, a squadron must 
never " undertake a defensive fight on foot unless 
absolutely necessary, or when the led horses can 
be disposed in a safe place in the neighbourhood, 
where the flanks cannot be turned, or where the 
arrival of reinforcements can be relied on." Ob- 
serve that there is no limitation here as to the 
strength of the enemy, no demand for numerical 
or moral superiority. The rule is almost absolute. 
A squadron can only charge on horseback. So that 
in average enclosed country, where charges cannot 
be arranged, two opposed squadrons must main- 
tain a masterly inactivity. We think of the 74 
isolated " Zarps " at Bergendal in their desperate 
defence against enormous odds, and of the 150 
Griqualanders who defied a division of Cavalry 
for a whole day at Dronfield. 

But the General is far from stopping with the 
squadron. " The regiment will seldom be called 
upon to fight independently, but will operate in 
more or less close co-operation with other troops." 
It can act dismounted, but only " against 
weaker hostile detachments." In defence, how- 



ever, it is " formidable," because strange reason 
it can detach two whole squadrons to guard the 
led horses ! Well, it is no wonder that the 
author neglects and discourages the study of 
modern war. Supposing De Wet, for example, 
had acted on his principles ! His brilliant inter- 
vention at Paardeberg was made with 350 men. 
Or go to Manchuria. Naganuma's masterly raid 
of January to February, 1905, when he rode round 
the Russian army and blew up the great bridge of 
Hsin-kai-ho, was made with 172 Cavalrymen, 
who acted throughout solely by fire, and would 
have been impotent without it. The author pro- 
fesses to admire the exploits of the Americans in 
1861-1865. What does he suppose their Cavalry 
leaders would have thought of his theories ? 

The brigade of two regiments, we learn next, is 
almost as feeble a unit as a regiment. " It 
cannot," he says vaguely, " engage an opponent 
of any strength who may have to be dealt with 
by mounted or dismounted action, or the two 
in combination." " In view of its small offensive 
power, it will run a great risk of suffering defeat, 
especially when dismounted" In defence, " if the 
led horses do not require too large an escort," etc., 
it " may be an important factor of strength." 

The division of six regiments (of 400 men per 
regiment) is a somewhat more useful unit. " If 


its full strength can be employed in the charge," 
it " represents, even against troops using the 
rifle " (what troops ? of what strength ?), "a 
considerable fighting power." Nevertheless, it 
can attack " only weak detachments with a pros- 
pect of success." " The resistance of a body of 
equal strength " (a body of what ? how com- 
posed ?) " when circumstances demand a dis- 
mounted attack can never be overcome." 
Mounted, however, and " charging in close 
formation," it can attack even a stronger enemy 
(what sort of enemy ?), " regardless of conse- 

Finally, a corps of two divisions " can aim at 
decisive results," and, alone of all units, can 
engage in " independent strategic missions," 
which we may suppose, without further explana- 
tion, to mean raids. But in these " fire-power 
is an important factor," and it is hinted that even 
the corps will not have enough fire-power. 

The General complains that his writings " fall 
on barren soil." Well they may. Antiquated as 
the methods of the German Cavalry are, they at 
any rate intend to fight. A Cavalry educated on 
the maxims of the author might as well be left 
at home. 

And this is the author that Sir John French, 
who knows what our own mounted riflemen did in 


South Africa, holds up as a model to our Cavalry. 
He has not one word of criticism, not a single 
reservation, to make on any of the passages I have 
quoted. On the contrary, he tells our men, hi 
general terms, that it is all true, and implies that 
the greatest of his compatriot soldiers, Lord 
Roberts, makes "appeals from vanity to igno- 
rance." A perusal of this chapter, and of Sir John 
French's effusive eulogy, ought to make every 
British soldier, home or colonial, indignant. 

Its conclusion (pp. 245-246) is not the least re- 
markable part of it . "It will seldom be possible, ' ' 
says the General, conscious, seemingly, that his 
counsels have not been vividly luminous, " and 
generally unnecessary to undertake or carry out 
the very best course of action, for we may certainly 
count on numerous errors and vacillations on the 
part of the enemy, especially in the case of Cavalry 
warfare." Well, we may heartily endorse the 
words I have italicized. 

Then, as a last desperate resort, come high- 
sounding generalities. " The indomitable will to 
conquer carries with it a considerable guarantee 
of success . . . and the offensive is the weapon 
with which he [the Cavalry leader] can best 
enforce his will." Offensive ! 

The reader may infer from the passages I have 
quoted that it is not necessary to examine in 


close detail the General's instructions for the 
" battle of encounter " and the " attack of 
localities." He will trip at every ambiguous 
sentence, baffled by contradictions or qualifica- 
tions somewhere else, and perpetually befogged 
either by the vague word " enemy " or the im- 
plied distinction between " Cavalry " and " other 
arms " a distinction which is generally irrele- 
vant, since all Arms are linked together by that 
great common denominator, the firearm. I have 
already noted how the presence of artillery dis- 
sipates " purely Cavalry tactical principles." 
Modern artillery fire, he says, necessitates deploy- 
ment at 6,500 yards from the enemy at least. 
That is nearly four miles away, and the questions 
at once arise, Who are these invisible troops 
with Artillery ? What is their strength and com- 
position ? Have they some of those troublesome 
cyclists and Infantry, or some of those unorthodox 
Mounted Infantry or Cavalry acting improperly 
as Mounted Infantry, who will make an additional 
complication in a situation already compromised 
by Artillery ? 

The German Regulations are superbly indif- 
ferent to these questions, and accordingly come 
hi for fresh condemnation. Cavalry are supposed 
to know at four miles what the composition, 
strength, and intentions of the enemy are, and 

if the enemy is Cavalry (the cyclists and Infantry 
prescribed by the Regulations themselves are 
ignored), the echelon system (previously outlined) 
is to provide for all contingencies. The author 
pitilessly dissects this childlike scheme. " In peace 
manoeuvres," he remarks caustically, " there is 
always a tacit understanding that the enemy is 
no stronger than one's own force." In war it is 
otherwise. To clear up the situation " energetic 
contact with the enemy by fire-action is neces- 
sary." " Only by a protracted action can the 
enemy be forced to disclose his strength and in- 
tentions," and " a protracted fight can only be 
carried out by fire-action." Perfectly sound, we 
agree ; and then we remember, with a start, those 
terrible led horses, and the doctrines founded on 
them. " It is only when conscious of a great moral 
and tactical superiority, or when there is any 
prospect of surprising the enemy, that an attack 
should be dared without the necessary numerical 
preponderance." In other words, the author once 
more categorically contradicts himself. After first 
saying that fire-action and " protracted," " ener- 
getic " fire-action is the only means of forcing 
the enemy to disclose his strength and intentions, 
he adds in the next breath that such action is on 
no account to be undertaken unless the enemy's 
strength is already known, and he is known to bo 


greatly inferior, either numerically, or tactically 
and morally ! Is it any matter of surprise that 
the Germans are slow to listen to General von 
Bernhardi ? 

The same deadly instinct for self-refutation 
dogs the General through his satire on the regula- 
tion method of " passing a defile " (p. 154). In 
peace " one side is kept as far from the defile as 
possible, in order that the passage on the other 
side may be possible," and that both may have 
the luxury of a knightly combat. These practices 
the General prophesies will lead to " enormous 
losses hi war," and he pleads for a modicum of 
commonplace fire-action. " Whether," he gravely 
remarks, " the attack be undertaken mounted or 
dismounted will depend upon the attitude of the 
enemy and the attendant circumstances." Yes, 
but we know from other sources what that means 
namely, that if the enemy shows a " defensive 
attitude," the attack will be by fire; but that 
there will be no attack at all, even so, unless he 
is greatly inferior, either morally and tactically 
or numerically. 

Later we have a condemnation of Regulation 
No. 519, which directs the Army Cavalry, not 
only to drive the hostile Cavalry from the field, 
but to press back or break through " detachments 
of all arms." " I cannot conceive," says the 


General, "any real case in which Cavalry can 
break through hostile detachments of all arms." 
Poor Cavalry ! If mounted riflemen laboured 
under such a disability, there would have been no 
South African War at all literally none. 

Then Regulation No. 403 falls a victim. It is 
certainly an easy prey. " Personal observation 
[i.e., by the commander] is always the best, and 
is essential in the case of offensive action against 
Cavalry." The Regulations, of course, assume 
that both Cavalries disdain to use their rifles, 
and whirl about in huge ordered masses up to the 
moment of contact ; but the author plaintively 
argues that fire rules the situation, and makes the 
zone of combat such that it is utterly impossible 
for one individual to have ocular perception of 
all that is going on. " One brigade will often 
fight on foot, the other mounted," he complains, 
" so that a handling of a division according to 
rule is practically impossible." True comment, 
but how futile ! 

Then, conscious (as he so often is conscious) 
that his counsels may have a damping effect on 
his hearers, he ends in a burst of poetry. " The 
enemy's fire must not paralyze the idea of offen- 
sive action " (he means shock, though he does not 
like to say so). " We must act ' regardless of con- 
sequences,' ' wrest victory,' " etc., according to 


the hackneyed Cavalry phraseology, upon which 
modern war throws such a pitilessly searching light. 
The next section, " Attack of Localities," 
needs little further comment. This attack must 
be done exclusively by fire, but in practice it can 
never be done. That is the only deduction we 
can arrive at. But there is one highly important 
point. At the end of the section the bewildered 
reader finds himself involved in a lengthy discus- 
sion on the sword and lance in mounted combat 
a discussion from which I have already quoted, 
and which arises out of a radically false analogy be- 
tween those steel weapons and the bayonet carried 
by the foot-soldier. If Cavalry have to do the same 
work as Infantry, should not they carry bayonets ? 
That is how the debate arises. It is an interesting 
debate, on which anyone must frankly admit 
there may be legitimate difference of opinion. 
Even for Infantry the bayonet is somewhat under 
a cloud, as the General himself contends ; and 
Mounted Infantry, or Cavalry acting as such, 
have powers of surprise and envelopment derived 
from the horse which may perhaps be held to 
compensate them for the doubtful advantage 
of a bayonet. Instead of reasoning thus, the 
General treats the bayonet only as a possible sub- 
stitute for the sword, and rejects it on that ground. 
But what has the sword to do with the bayonet ? 


The sword is meant for use on horseback ; the 
bayonet is fixed to the rifle, and is used on foot 
as a factor in fire-tactics. The essence of the 
whole controversy we are engaged upon is whether 
it is any longer possible in modern war to fight on 
horseback, and whether the rifle should not be 
the weapon par excellence of mounted troops. 
Whether you reinf orce it with the bayonet or not 
is a distinct question, which has no relation what- 
ever to the value of the sword and lance. It 
seems absolutely hopeless to get this distinction 
grasped. Over and over again in the letters and 
articles on this controversy the same old fallacy 
recurs, and, as I shall show later, it influences 
the German General more deeply than he realizes. 
The section on " Defence " (p. 176) is short, and 
mainly consists of the elaborated truism that 
all defence should have an offensive character. 
The General seems to think that this maxim 
applies especially to Cavalry. It is the old delu- 
sion that Cavalry is a more offensive Arm than 
Infantry, and it leads him inexorably to the fatal 
conclusion that Cavalry cannot be trusted to 
undertake a " completely passive defence." They 
will only attempt to do so but observe the com- 
prehensive breadth of the exceptions when it 
is a case of "holding a crossing over some ob- 
stacle, defending an isolated locality, or gaining 


time." In these cases a retirement may be 
involved "which is difficult to carry out on 
account of the led horses, and should only be 
attempted in very favourable country. It demands 
that the fight shall be broken off always a diffi- 
cult matter, and, to Cavalry encumbered by these 
led horses, one of considerable danger." " Re- 
mounting when pressed by the enemy is always 
a critical matter." It makes one hot to hear this 
sort of thing commended to British soldiers by 
Sir John French. It spells disgrace in war. 
Troops who cannot break off a fight cannot fight 
at all. " Colonel X., be good enough to cover 
my retreat with your regiment. Defend that 
crossing, please, or that locality, and gam me 
time." " Very sorry, sir, but the ground is un- 
favourable, and my led horses encumber me." 
Supposing our gallant Colonials had said that 
at Sannah's Post ? They found, indeed, how 
" critical a matter " it is to remount when pressed 
by the enemy, for the Boers charged right into 
them again and again ; but they did not flinch, 
and they saved their column from rum, while the 
Cavalry engaged, equally brave men, but ignorant 
of their true role in war, failed in the task set them. 
But all this is " abnormal," Sir John French would 
say. A respectable hostile Cavalry would have 
summoned us to knightly combats with the steel. 


And then (on p. 184) we come, as usual, to 
the corresponding reductio ad absurdum. " In 
mounted combat [i.e., with the steel] the breaking 
off of the fight is quite impossible. Troops once 
engaged must carry the fight through. Even 
when retreating from the melee fighting Cavalry 
has no means of extricating itself. It is then 
entirely dependent on the enemy, and can only 
retire at the most rapid speed," etc. " Whoever 
expects to rally a beaten Cavalry division after 
a mounted fight by blowing the divisional call 
lays himself open to bitter disappointment." 

No wonder so much stress is laid on the offen- 
sive character of Cavalry ! 


We have now completed our review of the 
author's theories on the action of the Independent 
Cavalry, and I must ask the reader for a moment 
to compare with his views the instruction on the 
same topics contained in our own Manual. 
" Cavalry Training." The same fundamental 
error vitiates the whole of this instruction, but 
in an infinitely more mischievous form. The 
German author makes both shock and fire equally 
absurd, but his respect for shock never deters him 
from telling in his own strange way home-truths 


about fire which at least force the reader to con- 
struct for himself cosmos out of chaos. Our 
authorities, conscious that the intermingling of 
shock and fire will create difficulties only too 
apparent to Englishmen with any knowledge or 
memory of South Africa, divorce them completely 
from one another. In their Manual, Cavalry 
acting against Cavalry, whatever the terrain or 
other circumstances, are assumed never to employ 
fire-action, whose results are described as " nega- 
tive," but only to employ shock. If the reader 
will turn to pages 196-212, which deal with the 
Independent or strategical Cavalry, he will ob- 
serve with what really remarkable ingenuity the 
compilers manage to avoid even the remotest 
recognition of the fact that Cavalrymen carry 
rifles. The word " fire " is not breathed, though 
to the intelligence even of the most ignorant lay- 
man it must be plain that fire must dominate 
and condition the functions described, especially 
those beginning with the " approach march when 
within striking distance of the hostile Cavalry " 
(p. 202). 

The various problems bravely but confusedly 
tackled by General von Bernhardi are here quietly 
ignored. Everything is so arranged as to lead up 
without hitch to the physical collision on horse- 
back of the two opposing Cavalry " masses." 


There is no echo of von Bernhardi's rule about 
early deployment in view of Artillery fire. Our 
own Artillery, it is true, is to "throw into con- 
fusion " the enemy's Cavalry a compliment 
which no doubt the enemy may return (p. 208). 
But, confusion or no confusion, the climax is to 
be the purest of pure Cavalry fights. Scouts 
and patrols are to observe the enemy and to 
prevent our own commander from " engaging his 
brigades on unfavourable ground " (note that 
pregnant warning) ; but there is no suspicion or 
suggestion of von Bernhardi's " protracted fire- 
fight " hi order to discover the strength and in- 
tentions of the enemy, especially in view of the 
possibility that the enemy may, with unsports- 
manlike perversity, choose ground which is " un- 
favourable to our brigades." Our Cavalry Com- 
mander (p. 205), it is to be inferred, is to perform 
the physical impossibility enjoined by the German 
Regulations, and criticized by von Bernhardi 
(pp. 160-162), of personally overlooking the whole 
of the attack and the ground which it is to cover. 
Needless to say, there is not a whisper about 
those sinister prophecies of the German author 
that " one brigade will often fight on foot, the 
other mounted "; that it will be impossible " to 
put a division into the fight (i.e., shock-fight) in 
proper cohesion "; that, in view of fire, " the situa- 


tion during the rapidly changing phases of the 
Cavalry fight will often be quite different from 
what was expected when the tasks were allotted "; 
and that, fire apart, European topography is 
such that opportunities for the " collisions " of 
Cavalry masses will be very rare. 

With our authorities all goes by clockwork 
on Frederician and Napoleonic lines. " The 
enemy should be surprised," so that the charge 
may follow immediately after the deployment. 
The attack is to be on the echelon system ridiculed 
by von Bernhardi, but the encounter, neverthe- 
less, is not to be " broken up," but is to be by the 
" simultaneous action of all brigades." The art- 
less enemy co-operates, allows himself to be sur- 
prised upon the right piece of "favourable " ground, 
and courteously presents an objective which may 
be struck simultaneously. The Artillery of both 
sides ceases fire, fascinated by the sublime 
spectacle of the " collision " ; the machine-guns, 
which have been " affording a means of develop- 
ing fire without dismounting" also retire from 
business, and the knightly combat rages on its 
appointed level arena. Then comes the pursuit 
(p. 211). Troops are either to "pursue at top 
speed in disorder," or to " rally at once at the 
halt "; and on page 128 elaborate directions will be 
found for the practice of this " rally," which von 


Bernhardi says is an " absolute impossibility in 
war," and that it is " indeed astounding that we 
should give way to such self-deception." Is the 
rally, we wonder, one of the " best foreign 
customs " which Sir John French urges us to 
assimilate, or one of the worst, which he has 
accidentally overlooked ? 

It is only when our authorities have finished 
with the pursuit, which is to " completely ex- 
haust and disorganize the beaten enemy," and 
when, the hostile Cavalrymen vanquished, our 
own Cavalry has been safely launched on its 
reconnoitring duties (p. 212), that they consider, 
under quite a distinct heading, and without a 
hint that it may have anything to do with what 
precedes, the dismounted action of Cavalry 
against what is described with judicious vague- 
ness as an " enemy " (pp. 213-216). Then we 
have the same demoralizing injunction that von 
Bernhardi, in his fire-mood, so strongly combats 
namely, that a " fire-fight is not to be pro- 
tracted "; and the same equally vicious suggestion 
that von Bernhardi, in his steel-mood, acquiesces 
in namely, that defence in any shape is a some- 
what abnormal function of Cavalry ; that they 
are not supposed to conduct stubborn defences 
("tenacious " is Sir John French's own term) ; 
and that they should never demean them- 


selves by constructing anything serious in the 
way of entrenchment (p. 215). But it is scarcely 
necessary to add that the led horses are not the 
nightmare to our authorities that they are to 
von Bernhardi, and that we do not yet stultify our 
own directions for fire-action by warnings about 
the minimum size of units, and the imperative 
need for moral, numerical, and tactical superi- 
ority. Yet these warnings are regarded, accord- 
ing to his own account, as inspired wisdom by 
Sir John French, whose own introductory remarks 
are conceived in an even more reactionary spirit 
than those of the " acknowledged authority " 
whom he recommends to British readers. 

The finishing touches to the comedy of the 
shock-duel are given in the revised Mounted In- 
fantry Manual of 1909 ; for, although in this con- 
nection the Cavalry Manual never breathes a word 
about its sister Arm, it is, as I have before men- 
tioned, one of the regular duties of the Mounted 
Infantry to co-operate with the Cavalry, not only 
in reconnaissance, but in battle. Under the head- 
ing " Co-operation with Cavalry when Acting 
Offensively against Hostile Cavalry," the Mounted 
Infantry are to " seize points of tactical impor- 
tance from which effective rifle and machine-gun 
fire can be brought to bear on the flanks of the 
opposing Cavalry before the moment of contact." 



We picture an amphitheatre, like Olympia, both 
rims of the horseshoe lined with hidden riflemen, 
and two solid blocks of Cavalry galloping to- 
wards one another in the arena below, and we are 
alarmed for the fate of the horsemen, exposed 
in such a formation to a sleet of bullets. But 
we come to a fortunate reservation. " Fire will 
rarely be opened upon the hostile Cavalry or 
Artillery until contact is imminent. The object 
aimed at is the defeat of the hostile Cavalry, and 
a premature opening of fire is liable to cause it 
to draw off and manoeuvre, in order to bring off 
the Cavalry encounter outside effective rifle- 
range." Surely some humorist of the Mounted 
Infantry, coerced by the General Staff into 
finding a role for his Arm which should not trench 
upon the sacred preserves of the Cavalry, penned 
these exquisite lines by way of stealthy revenge ! 
What delicate consideration for the " knightly " 
weapons ! What an eye for theatrical effect ! 
What precautions against the disturbance of the 
collision by the premature discharge of vulgar 
firearms ! And what a tactful show of appre- 
hension lest these reminders of the degenerate 
twentieth century should scare away the old- 
world pageant to regions beyond " effective 
rifle-range "! It will be noticed that even the 
Artillery of the enemy is to be immune until 


" contact is imminent " a somewhat doubtful 
risk to take without a written guarantee from 
the enemy that his Artillery will reciprocate the 
courtesy. (For the Gunners' view, see below, 
p. 204.) 

Finally, with what unerring neatness, under 
his veil of genial irony, does our humorist manage 
to expose and satirize the futility of the lance and 
sword and the deadly pre-eminence of the rifle ! 
He recognizes that it is only by the indulgence 
and self-restraint of riflemen that swords and 
lances can be used, and he knows, as we all 
know, that it is physically impossible for modern 
Cavalry, in war or peace, to find any spot on 
the globe which is " outside effective rifle-range " 
unless they take the unsoldierly course of 
throwing away their own rifles. In peace, of 
course, as von Bernhardi constantly reminds us, 
rifles may be, and frequently are, ignored, even 
if they are not left hi barracks ; but in " real 
war " there is no use for troops who can only 
fight outside effective rifle-range. I need only 
add that the ideal Cavalry combat, as envisaged 
by our authorities, is precisely the combat which 
von Bernhardi stigmatizes hi peace manoeuvres 
as a " spectacular battle-piece." Mounted In- 
fantry to him represent a force which, by 
" seizing the rifle," will " compel " the opposing 


Cavalry to " advance dismounted." The case 
imagined is what he regards as the normal case 
of " co-operation with other arms," and it will 
be remembered that " he can conceive no case 
in which Cavalry [i.e., using the steel] can break 
through a hostile detachment of all arms." 

One stands in awe before the almost miraculous 
tenacity of a belief which can give birth to such 
puerilities as I have quoted from our Manuals 
without perishing instantly under the ridicule 
of persons conversant with war. If the thing 
described had ever once happened, it would be 
different, but it never has happened, and never 
can or will happen. In war no Commander-in- 
Chief would tolerate even a tendency towards 
such child's-play. Otherwise, in pessimistic 
moments, one might tremble for the Navy. Sup- 
posing our Dreadnoughts were trained to withhold 
their fire so as to decoy hostile wooden three- 
deckers into collisions with our wooden three- 
deckers, and encounters settled by cutlasses on 
the lines of Salamis and Syracuse ? 

The parallel is not discourteous to the Cavalry. 
When they will it, they can be Dreadnoughts. 
But their shock-charge is as obsolete as sails and 
wood in naval war. 



WE have now come to the exposition of the 
part Cavalry will play in the great battle of 
all Arms, which, says von Bernhardi, is always 
" pre-arranged." But it will occur to the reader 
at once that, so far as our inquiry about fire 
and the steel in combat is concerned, there can 
be nothing new to be said. There are firearms 
in all warfare, and the tactical principles they 
enforce will be approximately constant. Every 
great battle takes the form of a series of " attacks 
on localities," or " battles of encounter," how- 
ever we interpret those phrases. If an enemy, 
to whatever Arm belonging, who takes up a 
" defensive attitude " can only be attacked by 
fire in a fight of the Independent Cavalry, he can 
only be attacked by fire in a pre-arranged battle ; 
and if the led horses are a paralyzing encum- 
brance in the one case, they are equally so in the 
other. The great battle, it is true, presents a 


more positive and obvious example of the co- 
operation of the various Arms ; but, as we have 
seen, the co-operation " of other arms " has been 
regarded by the author as a normal incident of the 
combats he has already described, and the " purely 
Cavalry fight " as an altogether exceptional 
incident. And since even the purest Cavalry 
carry the rifle, they can at any moment sully the 
purity of the said fight by resort to that sordid 
but formidable weapon. 

The author, as we might expect, only dimly 
appreciates the universality of his own principles 
if the mutually destructive propositions which 
he alternately lays down can be properly termed 
principles. He constantly confuses tactics with 
combat. Different rules, of course, must always 
govern the action of mounted troops and horse- 
less troops, because the one class is more mobile 
than the other ; but it is impossible to lay down 
any lucid and intelligible principles for modern 
war until we realize the ubiquity and the suprem- 
acy of the missile weapon, rifle or gun. 

The Army Cavalry, he tells us, as distinct from 
the divisional Cavalry, " must be engaged en 
masse, and not in detail." " It must simul- 
taneously engage its whole fighting strength," 
as an undivided entity (p. 190 et seq.), and its 
proper position is forward of one of the flanks. 


We have no sooner grasped this principle than 
we find a separate chapter devoted to the action 
of " those portions of the Cavalry which find 
themselves behind the fighting-line, not on the 
exposed flank." This sub-division, we are 
vaguely told, " may be the result of circum- 
stances," but there is no indication of what those 
circumstances are. But this is only one infrac- 
tion of the principle of unity. In spite of the 
distractingly vague use of terms such as " front " 
and " flank," " enemy," " hostile forces," " troops 
within hostile reach," we are able to distinguish 
the following functions for the Cavalry mass 
during the battle : It must conduct (1) a " far- 
reaching exploration " on the enemy's extreme 
rear and "probable lines of approach and com- 
munication," so as to give warning of the 
approach of fresh reserves ; (2) an " immediate 
tactical reconnaissance," evidently of the whole 
battle - front though the vague expression 
" against such hostile troops as may be within 
tactical reach " might mean almost anything. But 
we are told explicitly later that during the whole 
course of the battle the Cavalry mass " must in all 
cases prevent the enemy's patrols from making 
observations as to the disposition of our own 
Army, while, on the other hand, its own reconnais- 
sance should never cease " (p. 199). We receive a 


sort of mental dislocation, therefore, when the 
author resumes : " Screened by these various 
measures, the Cavalry mass now advances fully 
deployed for the fight." Were " these measures," 
then, only to screen the Cavalry mass ? But how 
can detachments, perhaps twenty miles away on 
the other flank, be said to screen the Cavalry 
mass ? (3) The mass is to provide for the occupa- 
tion of " defiles and other important places to the 
flank and front of the main body " (i.e., of the 
main Army). 

Let us pause and think. Supposing the initial 
battle-front is thirty or forty miles in extent. 
Even in the Boer War it was frequently thirty 
miles, while in Manchuria the fronts were some- 
times enormously more extensive at Mukden 
nearly 100 miles. How in the world is the entire 
Cavalry mass, posted outside one flank, to provide 
for the continuous reconnaissance, close and dis- 
tant, of such a front, the occupation of advanced 
points, and for the maintenance of a reserve 
behind the front, while remaining a practically 
undivided force for united action ? What is the 
enemy's Cavalry supposed to be doing ? In 
theory, we are told, they will do the right thing, 
that is, post themselves by instinct outside one 
flank exactly opposite our own mass. But sup- 
posing they do not. Whatever they do, they 


have got (4) to be " driven from the field " (the 
reader will recollect the well-known formula), 
which will involve dispersion, if they disperse. 
But the author is not nearly so strong on the 
formula as Sir John French. It is a very small 
matter (p. 191), this driving of the hostile Cavalry 
from the field. " It has a certain value, but is 
comparatively useless for the main issue of the 
battle, unless, further, the possibility is gained of 
intervening in the decisive battle of all arms." 

Is not the reader conscious of an extraordinary 
artificiality and unreality in the terms employed ? 
Why speak of Cavalry driving the hostile Cavalry 
off the field, with more emphasis than of Infantry 
doing the same to Infantry ? Presumably, because 
Cavalry, as we have already learnt, cannot break 
off the fight either in their pure or debased 
capacity. But on page 198 the beaten Cavalry is 
to " seek shelter behind occupied points of sup- 
port," where it is to be attacked by the greatest 
possible fire-power, words which seem to imply 
that hitherto the attack has been by shock. Yet 
we have had it laid down as an axiom that neither 
party to a shock-combat can be used as a manage- 
able unit for an indefinite time. 

(5) The indi visible mass is now subject to fresh 
disintegration. " All portions of it not required 
for the pursuit " just described are to " regain their 


tactical cohesion " (an admission that the whole 
has lost its tactical cohesion), and, leaving their 
comrades to carry on the fire-fight, which may, 
of course, last for a week or more, are " to prepare 
for fresh effort." They are to occupy " localities " 
near the ground won, and " garrison " them with 
dismounted men a direction we can scarcely 
take seriously when we recollect the crushing dis- 
abilities under which Cavalry acting in passive 
defence have been supposed by the author to 
labour (see supra, pp. 122-123). 

(6) What is left of the mass now "takes up a 
position of readiness " secure from the view and 
fire of the enemy, and disposed in what the 
author calls " groups of units." The expression 
seems to lack precision, but " this is the most 
suitable formation." Subsequent action is to 
be according to the " circumstances of the various 
cases," and it is here that the reminder is casually 
interpolated that a protective and offensive recon- 
naissance along the whole battle-line is to be a 
continuous duty of the mass. But this action 
is " not to be regarded as sufficient." " The mass 
is to insure its own advance to that portion of 
the field where the decisive battle will probably 
take place, so that the charge will not meet 
with unexpected resistance and obstacles when 
the moment comes to ride it home. When this 


crisis of the battle approaches, the Cavalry must 
be ready to intervene. ... As the crisis ap- 
proaches, endeavours must be made to get as 
close to the enemy as possible, in order to shorten 
the distance that will have to be covered in the 
charge." Observe how naturally, how mechan- 
ically, the author associates the " crisis " with a 
gigantic Cavalry charge, and with what simple 
trustfulness he believes that unexpected re- 
sistance and obstacles will melt away, if only 
the mass can insure its advance to the right spot 
in time. 

As I shall show, he ruthlessly shatters his own 
hypothesis in the next breath ; but consider, in 
the light of " real war," the utter futility of all 
this so-called instruction for the " pre-arranged 
battle," with its pre-arranged crisis. Note the 
complete neglect of all the really important 
factors, the tremendous power of modern rifles and 
guns, and the vast extent and duration of modern 
battles, as contrasted with the limited physical 
powers of the horse and the small proportion 
which Cavalry in all armies bears to other Arms. 
Take Liao-yang, the Sha-Ho, Mukden, battles 
which lasted ten days, two weeks, and three weeks, 
and try and find from the author's remarks any 
practical, tangible guidance for such situations. 
Fancy one indivisible mass maintaining a con- 


tinuous reconnaissance over such distances, occu- 
pying defiles and " localities " to the front, leaving 
a reserve behind the battle-front, driving the 
entire hostile Cavalry from the field, and utterly 
destroying its power of further action ; garrisoning 
points in the ground won, and at the same time 
advancing towards the " probable " point of 
crisis. But this point may be two days' march 
from the flank, where the mass or what remains 
of it was posted, and when it gets there it will 
certainly find that the crisis is centring round 
some strong, defensible position where lances and 
swords will be less useful than bows and arrows. 
No such picture as the author draws occurred 
in the Franco-German, Austro-Prussian, or Russo- 
Turkish Wars. It did not occur at Vion- 
ville, the only battle in which a situation 
came about even approximately resembling the 
circumstances he outlines. So far as there was 
a crisis there, and so far as it was dealt with 
by a Cavalry charge, the circumstances have 
radically altered, and there is a " total absence of 
analogy," as the author himself expressly states. 
Bredow's steel-charge was made against unbroken 
Infantry and Artillery, flushed with the hope of 
victory. Such charges, he has told us with 
truth, are utterly impossible in modern war. " I 
cannot conceive any real case in which Cavalry 


can break through detachments of all arms " 
(p. 160). " Nowadays, when Infantry can cover 
the ground to a distance of 1,500 or even 2,000 
yards with a hot and rapid fire, and offer in their 
wide extension no sort of objective for shock- 
action, an attack on unshaken, steadily-firing 
Infantry, which has any sort of adequate field 
of fire, is quite out of the question" (p. 127). 

It seems odd to have to recall these matters, 
for the author, as I said before, shatters his own 
hypothesis in the paragraphs immediately follow- 
ing his pages on the crisis and the charge. " How- 
ever important and desirable it may be to con- 
tribute to the great decision by a glorious Cavalry 
charge, it should be borne in mind that the 
possibility of this will occur in very rare cases." 
He goes on to insist emphatically on this point, 
saying nothing here about the vastly enhanced 
effect of the modern rifle, but basing his argu- 
ment on terrain. Great charges, he says, were 
almost impracticable in the Franco-Prussian, 
Russo - Turkish, and Manchurian Wars, and 
" possible European theatres of war are but 
little suitable for charges, owing to the extent 
to which they have been cultivated." Peace 
operations are of no practical significance, because 
uncultivated country is expressly chosen. And 
so on. 


Then, why, we ask, all this reasoned instruction 
about Cavalry making its way to the crisis and 
delivering its charge ? Why not have said at 
the outset that their normal action must be 
something quite different ? Instruction for re- 
mote improbabilities is practically useless. What 
the commander wants to know is what to do 
as a general rule, especially when a wrong decision 
may, owing to the extent of the battle-field, 
involve him in ignominious impotence. Such is 
Cavalry literature. Serious men in any other 
walk of life would not tolerate exposition of 
this sort. 

We discover now that the Cavalry are not, 
after all, to make their way to the crisis and 
charge. That was conventional rhetoric. In 
reality they are to act on the rear of the hostile 
army, "upon the reserves, the column of supply, 
the heavy Artillery, etc." " It is here that oppor- 
tunities for decisive action must be sought." 
Well, obviously that is a different proposition 
altogether. Why not have begun with it ? 
Habit just the irresistible habit of associating 
Cavalry with shock, and of calling shock 
their " proper role," although it is only their 
" exceptional " role. For, of course, such action 
as the author now indicates is purely a matter 
of fire. That is why no such decisive attack upon 


the rear of a great Army has ever in recent times 
been accomplished by European Cavalry. The 
Cavalries of the sixties and seventies in the last 
century were absolutely incapable of such action, 
owing to their lack of fire-power. He is no doubt 
thinking of his model war, the American struggle 
of 1861-1865, and if he were truly candid, he would 
tell his countrymen that the brilliant exploits of 
the Civil War leaders in raiding communications 
and " hostile reserves " were performed solely 
through the rifle. 

The author is perfectly aware that the modern 
rifle has five times the power of the rifle of 1865, 
but he has not the courage of his own opinions, 
and descends to misty compromise. " Such 
action must, of course, be conducted with a due 
co-operation between mounted and dismounted 
action." What is the use of a rule like that ? 
" Against intact hostile reserves the fire-arm 
will be principally used." Why "principally"? 
Will not these intact reserves, to say the 
least, " take up a defensive attitude," and 
therefore render a fire-attack, according to his 
own repeatedly formulated rule, absolutely in- 
dispensable ? " Against columns of waggons it 
will be well to commence by fire-action." Why 
" commence " only ? Is there no lesson from 
South Africa here ? On what single occasion 


were lances and swords of the smallest value in 
attacks on transport ? Not on one. And on 
how many occasions did mounted riflemen, desti- 
tute of these weapons, capture transport and guns 
and rout reserves ? We all know Sir John 
French knows what our troops suffered in this 
way. Why does he not warn his countrymen, 
instead of telling them that these German specu- 
lations are brilliant, logical, conclusive, com- 
plete ? 

Look once more at the great Manchurian battles. 
Observe, for example, the great battle of Mukden, 
(with its awful record of massacre by fire-arms), 
when a Japanese Cavalry brigade, acting with 
Nogi's turning force, endeavoured to operate on 
the Russian rear. It was miserably weak nu- 
merically, and it failed to accomplish anything 
" decisive " ; but it did wonders, as it was, purely 
through fire. Has any critic, however enamoured 
of the arme blanche, ever suggested that, however 
strong, it could have accomplished anything with 
the lance and sword ? The very suggestion is pre- 
posterous . Fire ruled that terrific struggle from first 
to last. Look at Mishchenko's pitiful Cavalry raid 
on the Japanese communications in January, 
1905 ; and observe the shame which overtakes 
Cavalry who cannot fight on foot : whole brigades 
paralyzed by squads of isolated riflemen, remind- 


ing us only too painfully of Dronfield and Poplar 
Grove ; Cossacks pathetically charging stone 
walls with drawn swords ; disaster and humilia- 
tion clouding the whole sordid drama. Sir John 
French's contribution to our enlightenment on 
the Manchurian War, in his Introduction to 
Bernhardi's first book, " Cavalry in Future 
Wars," was that the Cossacks failed through 
excess of training as riflemen. He has not re- 
peated that statement in his Introduction to the 
second book. He scarcely could. 

All the world knows the truth now namely, 
that the Cossacks, as one who rode with them said, 
" once dismounted, were lost." They did not 
know how to handle rifles, and all their humilia- 
tions may be traced to that fact. Nor did the 
Japanese Cavalry at first, and they were equally 
impotent. But they learnt, and learnt to ad- 
mirable purpose, as the records show. If he 
cannot repeat and confirm what he said in his 
first Introduction, why is Sir John French alto- 
gether silent on the point in his second Introduc- 
tion ? Well, it was an awkward dilemma for 
him ; for Bernhardi himself (p. 97), in his chapter 
on Raids, alludes to Mishchenko's raid in highly 
significant, though characteristically obscure, 
language. And if he follows up the clue, the 
reader may understand why it is that only on this 



one solitary question of raids, out of all the multi- 
tude of topics dealt with in the two books, Sir 
John French " ventures to differ " from the 
German author, pronouncing, for his own part, 
against them. Von Bernhardi expressly founds 
his advocacy of the raid on the American Civil 
War. " The idea," he says naively, " is taken " 
from that war. As though the Boers who made 
the raids of 1901, of which he never seems to have 
heard, took their ideas from that war or any other ! 
Their ideas were the fruit of their own common 
sense. Now, the Civil War is particularly dan- 
gerous ground in England for advocates of the 
arme blanche, although it is safe enough ground in 
Germany, where nobody studies it, and where 
there has been no Henderson to immortalize 
the exploits of the great Cavalry leaders. Fire, 
and fire alone, rendered the American raids 

I need scarcely say that there is no incongruity 
in discussing together the raid proper and the 
attack on the reserves and communications of a 
great Army from which my digression originated. 
The weapon factor is precisely the same in both. 
Rifles are rifles and lances are lances, whatever 
the strategical or tactical scheme which bring 
them into play. 

We turn lastly to the role of that portion of 



theoretically indivisible Cavalry mass which is 
maintained as a " reserve behind the front " 
(p. 204). The author's method is the same : first, 
to expound at length the duties and powers of this 
body as though they were its normal duties and 
powers, and then to state that these normal 
duties and powers in other words, the " proper 
role " of the force concerned are, hi nine cases 
out of ten, impracticable and visionary. He 
first represents the great mounted charge as the 
primary object, the great mounted charge, more- 
over, against Infantry ; for in this case there will be 
little chance, he says, of having " to deal with the 
hostile Cavalry." He proceeds to lay down the 
truly delightful maxim that the force is to mass 
behind " that part of the fighting line where the 
ground is adapted for a charge of large masses," 
though he has taken great trouble to show in 
the previous chapter, quite correctly, that this 
is precisely the kind of ground upon which im- 
portant struggles will not centre. Then, in flat 
defiance of all he has said about charges against 
Infantry, he advocates what in effect is our old 
discredited friend the " death ride " against un- 
shaken and victorious Infantry (p. 208), " in 
order to relieve our own exhausted Infantry," etc. 
The Cavalry are to " ride through the hostile 
Infantry, and fall upon the Artillery," although 


we know already that the author " can conceive 
no case in which Cavalry can break through 
detachments of all arms," and that an enemy 
who takes up even a defensive attitude can only 
be attacked by dismounted action. But in a 
flash of recollection of a prior maxim, he enjoins 
that not only the preliminary deployment, but 
the formation for attack in widely extended 
order, must take place " beyond the effective 
range of the enemy's fire "; for " once outside this 
zone . . . nothing eke can be done but to gallop 
straight for the front." Beyond the effective 
range of the enemy's fire ! What is that range ? 
He has told us before that it must, for average 
purposes, be reckoned 6,500 yards, or nearly 
four miles. Conceive a charge of four miles, 
begun out of sight of the enemy, and in the blissful 
confidence that at the end of it the " ground will 
be suitable " for fighting on horseback with steel 
weapons ! He proceeds in this strain for four 
pages, elaborating his topic with detailed tactical 
instructions, and then comes the usual nullifying 
paragraph : 

" It must be clearly understood that in this 
case, as in the other where the Cavalry is on the 
flank of the army, there will seldom be an oppor- 
tunity for a charge." What, then, it not a charge ? 
Half a page of fervid generalization. " The first 


essential is that victory shall be won. . . . The 
Cavalry must not shrink from employing its whole 
force on the fire-fight." We are bidden, rightly 
enough, to study the ancient lesson of Fredericks- 
burg. But it is now 1911. And we know what the 
author's views of the fire-fight for Cavalry are 
that, owing to the burden of led horses, it is never 
on any account to be attempted, unless there is 
an assurance of complete moral, tactical, and 
numerical superiority. Cadit qucestio once more. 
Our reserve becomes a dummy. 

There remain two topics in connection with the 
great prearranged battle of all arms "Pursuit 
and Retreat " and the " Role of the Divisional 
Cavalry." I shall take the latter first, and, with 
little comment, merely appeal to the reader's 
sense of humour. " In the battle of all arms," 
says the General, " as soon as fighting contact 
has been established with the enemy, and the close 
and combat reconnaissance is then probably at 
an end, the divisional Cavalry must endeavour 
to gain touch with the Army Cavalry in order to 
strengthen the latter for the battle. In so doing 
it must not, of course, lose all connection with its 
own Infantry division . ' ' Remember that the Army 
Cavalry is, by hypothesis, well outside our flank 
of a battle area which may be of any extent 
from ten to seventy miles. Picture the various 


divisional Cavalries along this front endeavouring 
to " gain touch " with the Army Cavalry, while 
not losing connection with their own respective 

It may be that this particular injunction has 
aroused merriment in Germany. That is not our 
business. But that Sir John French, with un- 
disturbed gravity, should solemnly pass it on to 
Englishmen as the last word of military wisdom 
that is extraordinary. Observe that, as usual, the 
arme blanche is responsible for the aberrations 
of the German writer. In the succeeding sentence 
this becomes clear. " When this cannot be done, 
and when no other chance of mounted action offers, 
the divisional Cavalry must seize the rifle, and 
act as an immediate support for the Infantry." 
The words I have italicized show that the physical 
feats contemplated in the original injunction 
are to be performed in the interests of shock, 
and that, if in the cold prosaic light of day 
they daunt the imagination of the leaders on 
the field, there is nothing left but to "seize the 

" Pursuit and Retreat " is a chapter which 
almost defies any brief analysis. Only those who 
are thoroughly acquainted with the curiously 
ambiguous vocabulary which hampers Cavalry 
writers at every turn can fully appreciate the 


bankruptcy of the steel weapons as disclosed in 
these pages, and, at the same time, the disastrous 
effect of these useless bits of steel upon the 
reasoning faculties of those who still believe in 
them. The first few pages leave us only the im- 
pression that both pursuit and retreat are very 
dubious topics for Cavalry. We approach the 
kernel of the matter at p. 215, where the writer 
deprecates " direct frontal pursuits," which " will 
generally yield but meagre results against the 
masses of the modern Army and the firearm of the 
present day." The enemy will occupy " localities, 
woods, and the like," and " bring the Cavalry 
pursuit to a standstill." " Only when completely 
demoralized troops are retreating in the open, 
and cannot be reached by fire " (what this last 
clause means I cannot conceive), " will a charge 
be feasible." Very good ; but why not have fol- 
lowed the same principle hi earlier chapters, 
instead of talking of Cavalry charging Infantry 
under cover, etc. ? " Frontal pursuit is essen- 
tially a matter for the Infantry, who must press 
the retreating enemy to the utmost." This seems 
a fairly definite rule, but we have no sooner 
grasped it than it is cancelled. 

" On the other hand, it is, of course, the duty 
of the Cavalry to maintain touch with the enemy 
under all circumstances. With this object in 


view, it must continue the frontal pursuit, some- 
times even without seeking to draw on a fight, 
by day and night." How one can continue a 
frontal pursuit by day and night without seeking 
to draw on a fight I leave the reader to guess. 
We turn to "Retreat," which is, of course, the 
counterpart of pursuit, only to be involved in a 
fresh tangle. Whether the enemy's Cavalry is 
assumed to be conducting a frontal pursuit by 
day and night hi spite of its " meagre results," or 
whether our own Infantry are bearing the brunt 
of the retreat in the face of the frontal pursuit of 
the enemy's Infantry a pursuit which is " essen- 
tially " their business we are left in uncertainty. 
All we have are vague heroics about the " main- 
tenance of morale " (the writer seems to be very 
nervous about the morale of Cavalry), about never 
renouncing a " relentless offensive," and about 
attacking the "enemy," wherever possible, with 
the cold steel. We find ourselves wondering how 
it is that " completely demoralized troops re- 
treating in the open " (by hypothesis the only 
proper subjects for a steel-charge) can be, never- 
theless, conducting a victorious pursuit, and our 
only escape from the entanglement is that in the 
case now considered by the author " enemy " 
means "Cavalry," who are, apparently, so far 
inferior to Infantry (though they carry the very 


weapon which makes Infantry formidable) that 
they can be " relentlessly attacked," even when 
they are not completely demoralized. 

One soon ceases to be surprised at anything in 
this species of literature, or one would gasp with 
amazement at the levity with which Cavalrymen 
throw ridicule on their own Arm. Suddenly and 
very tardily we come upon an indication of the 
alternative to that frontal pursuit which gives such 
meagre results and yet must be continued day 
and night. " Thus, when it becomes no longer 
possible to show a front to the pursuing Cavalry 
in the open, measures must be taken to block the 
routes upon which his parallel pursuit is oper- 
ating," etc. Does not the reader feel his brain 
going when he reads a sentence like this ? What 
antithesis can there be between Cavalry " pur- 
suing in the open " and Cavalry conducting a 
" parallel pursuit " ? There is no more or less 
probability of open ground in a parallel than in 
a frontal pursuit. It is the old story. One half 
of the writer's brain is back in the days of 
Frederick the Great ; the other half is in working 
in the medium of the present. 

That is the key to this chapter, from which 
a Cavalry leader could not gain one concrete, 
definite rule for his guidance in real war. On 
pursuit, as on many other topics, the author was 


more clear and instructive in his earlier work, 
" Cavalry in Future Wars " (Chapter IV.), where 
he was not hampered by having to consider 
Regulations with any pretence to modernity, 
and where he accordingly spoke with freedom on 
the absolute necessity of fire-action in pursuit ; 
though he could not even then wholly grasp 
the corollary, the absolute necessity of fire-action 
in retreat. 


Let us now, as in the case of the fight of the 
Independent Cavalry, contrast the directions 
given by our own authorities for the great battle 
of all Arms ("Cavalry Training," pp. 225-229). 
One point of difference we may dispose of at once. 
The divisional Cavalry (who are Mounted In- 
fantry) and the " protective " Cavalry (to which 
there is no German counterpart) behave rationally. 
They remain with, or drop back to, their respec- 
tive main bodies, and there make themselves 
generally useful. The rules for the Independent or 
Army Cavalry, on the other hand, present a curious 
study. On the German model, this main mass 
is, generally speaking, to be posted forward of 
one of the flanks. (There is no suggestion of a 
"reserve behind the front.") But we notice at 


once, with some surprise, that nothing is said 
about the corresponding hostile Cavalry mass, 
which, according to von Bernhardi, should be 
the primary objective, and whose " absolute and 
complete overthrow " is, according to Sir John 
French (p. xiv), a " primary necessity." 

The explanation is that one of the opposing 
Cavalry masses is assumed to have been already 
absolutely and completely overthrown that 
is, during the pre-battle reconnaissance phase, 
whose central incident, as described in pp. 192- 
194 and 200-212 of the Manual, and criticized by 
me in the last chapter, is the great shock-duel of 
the two Independent Cavalries a duel which 
is to result in the annihilation of one side or 
the other, and to which I shall have to return 
once more in the next chapter. The thread is 
resumed on p. 224 with the words, " Once the 
Independent Cavalry has defeated its opponent," 
etc., and from that point onwards nothing is 
heard of the hostile Independent Cavalry. The 
explanation of Sir John French's expression is 
the same. On p. xv he, too, assumes that before 
the battle the hostile Cavalry has been disposed 
of, and says, somewhat vaguely, that the " true 
role of Cavalry on the battlefield is to reconnoitre, 
to deceive, and finally to support " functions 
which he distinctly suggests should be carried 


out mainly through fire-action by troops " accus- 
tomed to act in large bodies dismounted." And 
we seem to recognize this view in the functions 
outlined in the Manual on p. 225. " Recon- 
noitre," it is true, disappears. We find no echo 
of von Bernhardi's chimerical conception of a 
double reconnaissance, distant and close, along 
the whole battle-front ; nor, we may add, of his 
injunction to " occupy defiles and other important 
places to the flanks and front " of the Army. 

The roles suggested for the flank Cavalry mass 
are : 

1. To " act against the enemy's flanks." 

2. To combine fire concentrically with the main 

3. To pursue on parallel lines a function 
which it is laid down on p. 229 is to be performed 
mainly with the rifle. 

4. To force the enemy away from his direct 
line of retreat; which is merely a corollary of 
No. 3. 

So far, good ; but the arme blanche, as we might 
expect, is not going to be suppressed in this 
summary fashion, and when we pass from pious 
generalization to the actual " crisis," which " offers 
the greatest opportunities for Cavalry action," 
we breathe once more the intoxicating atmosphere 
of the great shock-charge, not against Cavalry 


now (for they are ex hypothesi extinct), but 
against Infantry and Artillery. There is a mild 
caution about the " modern bullet," but it is 
evidently not intended to be taken very seriously. 
The relation between the " flank " phase and 
functions and the " crisis " phase and functions 
is passed over in silence. Von Bernhardi's diffi- 
culty about deployment and advance under 
modern fire is surmounted by the simple direc- 
tion that for what is called the " approach " 
surprise is essential ; yet in the next breath " fire*- 
swept zones " are envisaged which are to be 
passed over in a " series of rushes from shelter 
to shelter in the least vulnerable formation " & 
process exclusive of surprise ; and on the abso- 
lutely vital point of the formation for the actual 
attack one can positively watch the compilers 
struggling to reconcile Cromwellian principles 
with modern facts, and embodying the result 
in studiously vague and misleading language. 
The front of the Cavalry is not to be " too 
narrow," but the imperative necessity insisted 
on by von Bernhardi of wide, extension in the 
whole attacking force is implicitly denied by the 
direction that " squadrons in extended order may 
be used to divert the enemy's attention from the 
real attack." Then, there is to be the stereo- 
typed rally, which is to be in "mass," and the 


resulting mass is apparently to escape from 
further fire by using " another route." 

When will our soldiers base their rules on war 
facts ? As I have said, the facts show that it is 
still possible, in certain conditions, for men on 
horses, big target as they are, to penetrate a 
modern fire-zone, and attack and defeat riflemen 
and Artillery ; but it is impossible to do so if 
they insist on conforming their methods to the 
assumption that they are to do their killing work 
by remaining in the saddle and wielding steel 
weapons. That idea is fatal. It is that idea 
which promotes these rules about not too narrow 
fronts, these grotesque mounted rallies in mass, 
and this pregnant silence about the real point 
of interest what actually happens when a line 
of horsemen, stirrup to stirrup, or in extended 
order, wielding lances and swords, impinges on 
an extended line of dismounted riflemen. We 
know from war experience that such a charge, 
stirrup to stirrup, is as extinct as the dodo, and 
is advocated in set terms by no rational being. 
It has not even been tried or contemplated since 
1870. We know that the widely extended type 
has shared the fate of the other, because, with the 
loss of physical " shock," the steel weapons have 
lost their whole historical raison d'etre. The only 
practicable mounted charge known to modern 


war is that of the mounted riflemen, who fight up 
to the charge, and use the only weapon which is 
effective against riflemen namely, the rifle, forti- 
fied, if need be, by the bayonet. This charge is 
not an essential to victory. Heaven knows we 
lost guns and men and transport enough in South 
Africa without any mounted charging. The very 
object of a missile weapon is to overcome dis- 
tance in a way that the lance and sword cannot 
overcome it. For all we know, even the mounted 
rifle charge may wholly disappear as science 
improves the firearm. But that improved fire- 
arm will itself rule combat, and banish into still 
remoter realms of memory the reign of the lance 
and sword. 

I have excepted the case of the " utterly de- 
moralized " enemy utterly demoralized, of 
course, by fire. He is, naturally, fair game for 
any weapon, and experience proves that the fire- 
arm once more is incomparably the best weapon. 
Lances and swords are, relatively, slow, cumbrous, 
and ineffective. A magazine pistol used even 
from horseback is a better weapon than either. 

Nothing is said by our authorities as to attack 
during the battle upon the enemy's reserves and 
transport, enterprises in which von Bernhardi, 
after dismissing as a rare exception the great 
shock-charge, concludes that Cavalry are to seek 


their decisive opportunities. We may assume 
that, like raids on communications, they are 
ruled out. But no alternative to the shock- 
charge at the crisis is suggested, for the parallel 
pursuit is, of course, a subsequent phase. There 
ig only the ominous reservation that, if the 
ground is not favourable to the shock-charge, 
the " Cavalry commander must look for his 
chance elsewhere, or wait for a more favourable 
opportunity " (p. 227). 

That is just what we have to fear. That was 
the old, narrow, ignorant outlook of the con- 
tinental Cavalries, who were always waiting for 
favourable opportunities, and accounts for the 
idleness and lack of enterprise which von Moltke 
stigmatized in 1866, and for the paltry character of 
their performances as a whole, which von Bern- 
hardi recognizes and condemns. It accounts for 
the miserable failure of the Cossacks in Manchuria, 
and explains the success of the Japanese Cavalry, 
once they realized the worthlessness of their 
German instruction and textbooks, and dis- 
covered for themselves the worth of the rifle as 
a stimulus to activity and mobility. Von Bern- 
hardi says (p. 202): "The greatest imaginable 
error ... is to adopt a waiting attitude . . . 
in order that the possibility of a great charge 
might not slip by unutilized." That error is 


precisely what we have to fear. Teach Cavalry 
that their lances and swords are their principal 
weapons, and that the rifle is a defensive weapon ; 
tell them that the " climax of training " is the steel 
charge, "since upon it depends the final result 
of the battle "; found then* " spirit " on the steel ; 
make it in theory their " proper role "; give it a 
vocabulary of stirring epithets, like " glorious," 
" relentless," " remorseless," and all the rest, 
and they are only too likely, eager for battle as 
they are, to "wait for favourable opportunities " 
which will never occur, when they ought to be 
busy and active with their horses and rifles. 

The sections on pursuit and retreat are modelled 
on similar sections in von Bernhardi's earlier 
book, " Cavalry in Future Wars," and escape 
therefore some of the contradictions of the later 
work. Since they lay predominant stress on fire, 
we can only hope that their obvious blindness to 
the true reasons for fire does little harm. Pur- 
suits, whether by Infantry or Cavalry, be they 
frontal, parallel, or intercepting, will always be 
governed by fire. The thing that really distin- 
guishes Cavalry from Infantry is that they have 
horses, which give them a vast scope for a class 
of intercepting tactics which Infantry cannot 
undertake so easily. But even Infantry will be 
better at any form of pursuit than a purely shock- 



trained Cavalry. Sir John French would have 
intercepted the Boers, not only at Paardeberg, 
but at Poplar Grove, Karee Siding, Dewetsdorp, 
and Zand River, if his Cavalry had understood 
the rifle as well as they understood the horse. 
Retreat is the counterpart of pursuit, and the 
same principles apply. Cavalry ought to be able 
to fight a rearguard action better than Infantry, 
because, thanks to their mobility, they can choose 
defensive points more freely, hold them longer, 
and fall back to others quicker. But if they are 
taught that it is beneath them to entrench and 
to defend a fire-position with stubborn tenacity, 
and that their proper role is to be performing 
Frederician fantasias with the lance and sword, 
then they are likely, " hi real war," to be relegated 
to a sphere "outside effective rifle-range," and to 
find their place usurped by Infantry and mounted 
riflemen. There is very little to be known about 
rearguard actions which the Boers have not 
taught us, and yet they were, in Cavalry parlance, 
" defenceless " in other words, steelless riflemen. 




I COME lastly to the author's chapters on " Recon- 
naissance, Screening, and Raids." As I explained 
before, it is the critic's simplest course to leave 
them to the last, because, although they come 
first, they almost ignore the subject of weapons 
and combats, on the assumption, apparently, 
that the opposing Cavalries, at any rate in the 
first two of the functions in question, will, as a 
matter of course, fight with the lance and sword 
in the pure and proper fashion. But we have now 
considered and tested the worth of the author's 
views on combat and weapons, and can apply 
our criticisms to these chapters. 

Combat and weapons are not wholly over- 
looked. At the very outset comes the maxim 
which I quoted further back, to the effect that 
" the essence of Cavalry lies in the offensive," 
and that for defence they are to " abandon their 
proper role and seize the rifle on foot." The 



reader can appreciate now the value of this 
maxim, when we are dealing, as the author in 
these chapters is dealing, with two opposing 
Cavalries who are assumed to be acting against 
one another independently of other Arms. To 
tell both these Cavalries that their essence lies 
in the offensive is, to say the least, a superfluous 
platitude. To say that it is only hi defence that 
they are to " seize the rifle " is to say something 
wholly meaningless. Unless by seizing it they 
can force their antagonists also to relinquish 
shock as useless and to seize the rifle, they 
might as well not seize it at all. If they can 
force their antagonists to seize it and the whole 
mass of modern experience shows that they can 
and do then their antagonists, whether we call 
their role proper or improper, are acting in 
offence with the firearm, and the maxim is stulti- 
fied as, indeed, any maxim which applies 
medieval language to modern problems must be 
stultified. Experience shows that if you arm 
men with long-range, smokeless, accurate missile 
weapons, whatever then* traditions of etiquette 
and sportsmanship in peace, they will in war use 
those weapons to the exclusion of lances, swords, 
battle-axes, scimitars, and the various other 
weapons which were highly formidable before the 
days of gunpowder, but which have steadily 


declined since the invention and the progressive 
improvement of arms of precision. 

Besides this general maxim upon the functions 
of the rifle and the steel, there are a few incidental 
allusions which must be noticed. The reader will 
remember the rule as to the powerlessness of the 
squadron as a unit for fire-action. The rule is 
anticipated here in directions for reconnoitring 
squadrons (p. 44), which, even by night, are only 
to fight with the arme blanche, " because dis- 
mounted action is generally dangerous, and, on 
account of the weakness of the force, usually 
leads to failure "; and we wonder again how 
both of two opposing reconnoitring squadrons can 
" fail," and how such a situation is actually to 
be dealt with on such principles in "real war " 
say in the hedge-bound country which covers 
two-thirds of England. We are also told (p. 57) 
that patrols, " on collision with the enemy's 
patrols," are to take action "in as offensive a 
spirit as possible, but after due reflection." 
" Should a charge promise any kind of success, 
the opponent must be attacked in the most 
determined way." Nothing is said about fire, 
but we are left with the impression that a fire- 
attack can be neither " offensive " nor " deter- 
mined," and for the rest we have to be content 
with guidance like the following : " It does not 


promise success to attack the front of an ad- 
vancing squadron under the apprehension that 
it is a single patrol." 

One day's personal experience of modern war 
would teach the author the perilous futility of all 
these " speculative " conjectures. Has he for- 
gotten altogether the power and purpose of the 
modern rifle the rapidity, accuracy, and secrecy 
of its fire when he speaks of patrols indulging 
in due reflection about their determined offensive 
charges ? It is to be feared that at the hands 
of any but utterly incompetent troops his own 
contemplative patrols would receive short shrift. 
And the lesson of South Africa ? It is hard to 
see why, hi the matter of patrols at any rate, 
those three years of war should be regarded 
as abnormal. Yet it is the fact, as I must 
repeat, that no Cavalry patrol or scout from 
the beginning to the end of the war ever used 
the lance or sword ; that hi reconnaissance no 
Boer ever came near being hurt by those weapons ; 
and, furthermore, that the Cavalry were con- 
sistently and thoroughly outmatched in recon- 
naissance, which was governed universally by 
the rifle. It was exactly the same hi Manchuria. 
Instead of reminding his German confrere of these 
facts, Sir John French complains that the difficulty 
of the Cavalry in South Africa was that they had 


nothing to reconnoitre, while he implicitly ap- 
proves and applauds the conception of the reflec- 
tive charging patrol 

To clinch the matter, we need only remind 
ourselves that our own divisional mounted troops, 
whose sole weapon is the rifle, are entrusted not 
only with reconnaissance for their own division, 
but, in certain events, with exactly the same 
duties as the Independent and protective Cavalry. 
In these duties they will be pitted (in the event 
of a Continental war) against steel-armed Cavalry. 
If steel weapons were of any use, this would be 

Such are the scanty clues as to combat which 
we obtain from the chapters on reconnaissance. 
It remains to ask, What is von Bernhardi's 
view upon the great question of the employment 
of the Army or Independent Cavalry (as distin- 
guished from the divisional Cavalry) in the most 
important of all its functions in modern war 
reconnaissance ? I defy anyone to answer that 
question. So far as it is possible to construct 
any positive view from a series of obscure and 
contradictory propositions, it appears to be a 
view which is in direct conflict with that of Sir 
John French and of the Cavalry Manual which 
presumably he approves, while approving equally 
of General von Bernhardi. Anyone familiar with 


Cavalry literature will know of the old con- 
troversy between the theories of concentra- 
tion and dispersion. Is the Army Cavalry at 
the opening of a campaign to concentrate and 
" drive from the field " the enemy's Army 
Cavalry, or is it from the outset to begin its work 
of exploring the various lines of approach of the 
various hostile columns over the whole front 
an enormously extensive front upon which great 
modern armies must develop their advance ? 

In view of the great size and vast manoeuvring 
areas of modern armies and of the small numbers 
and transcendently important reconnaissance 
duties of Cavalry, that question would, I think, 
be decided in favour of dispersion, were it not 
for the fatal influence of the arme blanche. But 
Cavalrymen must have the gigantic shock-duel 
which I described and criticized in Chapter IV., 2. 
The idea of dispersion for sporadic bickering and 
scouting before this imposing tournament has been 
arranged is unthinkable to them. Our Manual 
therefore (pp. 193, 194) sets forth in all its naked 
crudity the idea of the preliminary shock-duel 
between the concentrated masses of the two Inde- 
pendent (or strategical) Cavalries a duel that 
cannot, it is expressly laid down, be conducted by 


fire-action, which is negative and inconclusive, but 
which, conducted with the steel, is assumed to 
result hi the complete and final "overthrow" of 
one party or the other. One side, in the words 
of the Manual, is " disposed of," and the surviving 
party proceeds to disperse and reconnoitre undis- 
turbed in the vast area of war.* 

Needless to say, the theory is purely academic. 
Such things have never happened in any war, 
ancient or modern, and assuredly never will 
happen. One Cavalry or the other may be 
depended upon in the future to act at the last 
moment with common sense. If it does not at 
once set about its work of reconnaissance, it will, 
at any rate, shiver to pieces with fire the massed 
shock-formations of its opponent. 

General von Bernhardi seems to be conscious 
of the weakness of the theory, though he cannot 
bring himself to shatter it outright. There are, of 
course, two distinct questions involved : (1) Should 
the Independent Cavalries concentrate at the out- 
set ? (2) If so, should the resulting collision be a 
shock-collision ? Number 1 is at any rate open 
to debate. Number 2 is not, but it always 

* See "Cavalry Training," p. 194. "It will thus gain 
freedom to carry out its ultimate role of reconnaissance." 
See also p. 196, where the principle is repeated with 
emphasis, an exception being made in favour of the case 
where the enemy's Cavalry is outside the zone of operations ! 


confuses the discussion of Number 1. The 
General could dispose of Number 2 merely by 
references to other parts of his own work to the 
passages, for example, where he says that not 
only in the great battles of all Arms, but in the 
contests of Independent Cavalries, shock-charges 
are only to be " rare " and " exceptional " events. 
For " squadrons, regiments, and even brigades, 
unassisted by other arms, the charge may often 
suffice for a decision. But where it is an affair 
of larger masses, it will never be possible to 
dispense with the co-operation of firearms " 
(p. 103). And there is the passage about modern 
European topography where he shows the physical 
difficulty of bringing about these combats. On 
the broader question (No. 1) he speaks with 
two voices. In direct contradiction of Sir John 
French's introductory remarks and of our own 
Manual, he says (p. 20) that the strategical 
Cavalry is not necessarily " to seek a tactical 
battle " ; that it is " by no means its duty under 
all circumstances to seek out the enemy's Cavalry 
in order to defeat it," because " by such conduct 
it would allow the enemy's Cavalry to dictate its 
movements." " On the contrary, it must sub- 
ordinate all else to the particular objects of recon- 
naissance," etc. 

It is clearly in his mind that, since the various 


corps or columns which are the objects of re- 
connaissance may be " advancing to battle " on 
a total front of 50 to 100 miles (this is his 
own estimate, p. 81), it will be advisable to ex- 
plore their zones of approach at once. But there 
are other passages which support the opposite 
principle : for example, on page 15 :" The circum- 
stances of modern war demand that great masses 
of mounted men shall be used as Army Cavalry 
and concentrated hi the decisive direction. . . . 
The front of the army, therefore, can never be 
covered throughout its entire length by the Army 
Cavalry," etc. On page 87 also he is quite decisive 
in the same sense : " The universal principle 
most always good for Cavalry, that when a 
decisive struggle is in prospect all possible strength 
must be concentrated for it " an unexceptional 
truism, applicable as it stands to all struggles, 
great or small, by land or sea, but in its context 
only too suggestive of the gigantic shock-duel.* 
But on the whole he stands committed to nothing 
more definite than the following : "It remains 
for the leader to make his preparations in full 
freedom, and to solve the task confided to him 
in his own way." Profoundly true, but not very 
helpful in an instructional treatise on war. 

* Yet on page 190 he contrasts action en masse in the battle 
of all Arms with previous action " in detail." 



The chapter on " Divisional Reconnaissance " 
is still less intelligible. It would be interesting 
to know how Sir John French would sum up 
its " logical " and " convincing " doctrines. The 
divisional Cavalry are in all cases to " cleave to 
the Infantry " (p. 75) of their respective divisions, 
yet they are to take the place of the Army 
Cavalry " when a concentration of that force in 
a decisive direction takes place " (another hint of 
the gigantic preliminary shock-duel), and are even 
to indulge in " strategical exploration " (pp. 72- 
75). In fact, these amazing super-Cavalry are to 
perform physical feats in reconnaissance analogous 
to the feats designed for them in the pre-arranged 
battle of all arms (vide p. 149). Yet they cannot 
" fight independently " even with the hostile 
divisional Cavalry, nor clear the way for their own 
patrols, nor find their own outposts (pp. 75-76). 

And then we come to a passage which, quite 
parenthetically and as it were by accident, throws 
a searching light upon the many dark places of 
this volume. The divisional Cavalry, inter alia, 
is to perform the " close reconnaissance along 
by far the greater part of the front of the army." 
But the close reconnaissance, owing to the range 
of modern firearms, is " considerably more diffi- 


cult." " It thus becomes possible for the 
Cavalryman in general to get no closer to the 
enemy than his rifle will carry " (p. 80). " His 
rifle," be it noted. And the hostile Cavalryman 
(surely an " enemy ") is presumably hi the same 
case. What, then, of the charging patrols and 
squadrons ? 

I suppose I should add that only two pages 
later (p. 82) the author, hi a fit of remorse, 
rehabilitates the charging patrol. " Rude force 
can alone prevail, and recourse must be had to 
the sword." Rude force ! The tragi-comic irony 
of it ! 


As to the chapter on Screens, we can only 
respectfully appeal to Sir John French to explain 
it. The ordinary reader can only give up the 
problem of elucidation in despair. What is the 
connection with his previous chapters on recon- 
naissance ? Is the " screen " something different 
from or supplementary to the normal reconnoitring, 
patrolling, and protective duties of the Army and 
divisional Cavalry, as described under the head- 
ings, " Main Body of the Army Cavalry," " Re- 
connoitring Squadrons," " Distant Patrols," 
"Divisional Reconnaissance," etc.? One would 
infer from the opening paragraph that it is 


something wholly different. "The idea of the 
screen," runs the opening sentence, "is first 
touched on in the ' Field Service Manual ' of 1908 ; 
it is also, however, demanded by the conditions 
of modern war " ; and from what follows we 
gather that the screen means an inner and purely 
'protective cordon of Cavalry, as distinguished from 
a distant offensive reconnoitring cordon. The 
same distinction is drawn in page 13 of the first 
chapter of the book. This is the kind of distinc- 
tion drawn by our own Manual, which, though 
it does not speak of a " screen," divides the 
Cavalry into three bodies one "Independent" 
or " strategical," the second " protective," while 
the third is the divisional Cavalry. Logically, 
of course, the distinction has but a limited value, 
unless, indeed, one regards the protective force 
as merely a chain of stationary outposts or 
sentries. All reconnaissance must obviously be 
defensive as well as offensive, because it repre- 
sents a conflict between two opposing parties. 
If the protective Cavalry are pressed, it is their 
duty, as the Manual does, in fact, lay down, not 
only to resist the scouts and patrols of the hostile 
force, but to find out the strength and disposition 
of that force, and even in certain cases, explicitly 
provided for, to take the place of the Independent 
Cavalry ; just as it is the duty of the Independent 


Cavalry, not only to pierce the hostile Indepen- 
dent Cavalry and inform themselves of the 
strength and disposition of the hostile Army, but 
to resist similar action on the part of their 
opponents. These principles would be taken for 
granted, with a vast improvement in the sim- 
plicity of regulations, if it were not for the 
influence of the arme blanche, impelling Cavalry 
writers to call their Arm a peculiarly offensive 
Arm, and inspiring the grotesque idea of the 
great preliminary shock-duel for the opposing 
Independent Cavalries, who are both presumed 
to be perpetually in offence as regards one 

Still, within reasonable and well-understood 
limits, the metaphorical term " screen," as 
denoting the protective aspect of a widespread 
observing force, is both useful and illuminating. 
To regard it, as General von Bernhardi does, as 
a brand-new idea, the result of " reflection and 
experience " on the needs of modern war, is to 
convict himself of ignorance of war. Screens of 
a sort there always have been and always must 
be : the only new factor is the vastly increased 
efficacy of modern firearms ; and if he could 
bring himself to concentrate on that new factor, 
of whose importance he shows himself in other 
passages to be perfectly aware, he would be able 


to convert into an intelligible, practical scheme 
his strange medley of inconsequent generaliza- 
tions. He is, of course, handicapped by the official 
Regulations, which, unlike our own, do not 
formally provide for a " protective Cavalry " as 
distinguished from the divisional Cavalry, and 
which seem to be more than usually obscure and 
confused in their theories about "offensive" and 
" defensive " screens, and in their hazy sugges- 
tions as to what troops are to perform the re- 
spective functions ; but he cannot or will not 
see the fundamental fallacy which, like Puck in 
the play, is tricking and distracting the minds of 
those who framed the Regulations, and so he 
himself makes confusion worse confounded. The 
protective aspect of the screen is no sooner 
insisted on than it is forgotten, and we have a 
disquisition on the offensive screen, which appears 
to be only another name for the normal activities 
of the Army Cavalry, behind the " veil " formed 
by whom a second screen is to be established by 
the divisional Cavalry (p. 87). 

This, however, is disconcerting, because m the 
previous chapter (p. 74) we have been told with 
emphasis that the Army Cavalry " hi the most 
usual case " will not be able to reconnoitre the 
whole Army front, but will be " concentrated in 
a decisive direction," and that the divisional 


Cavalry in such cases, in spite of their unfitness 
for the task, will have to do the " distant recon- 
naissance " and " strategical exploration " at 
all points not directly covered by the main 
Cavalry mass. And, sure enough, the " veil " 
just alluded to now disappears in its character 
as veil, and reappears as a " concentrated " mass. 
" The principal task of the offensive screen is to 
defeat the hostile Cavalry, and for this object 
all available force must be concentrated, for one 
cannot be strong upon the field of battle " (p. 87). 
It is amazing that serious exponents of any metier 
should write in this fashion. A concentrated 
screen is a contradiction in terms. 

Once committed, however, the General persists. 
All cyclist detachments and patrols are " to 
be brought up to the fight " from everywhere. 
Roads are not to be blocked (in accordance with 
the screen idea) until the supreme Cavalry 
struggle, with its conventional " complete over- 
throw " of the hostile Cavalry, is over ; and all 
this in flat contradiction of at least two-thirds 
of the earlier chapter on the Army Cavalry, where 
it was laid down that reconnoitring squadrons 
were from the first to be pushed forward from 
the "various groups of Army Cavalry," and 
were to be allotted reconnaissance zones; 
that a separation of Cavalry force was far 



the most probable line of action; and that re- 
connaissance was " an every-day task of the 
Cavalry," its " daily bread," a " duty which 
should never cease to be performed " for a single 

And yet on page 89 we come to the staggering, 
if cryptic, conclusion that " the Army Cavalry 
will only undertake an offensive screen when the 
Army is advancing and where the country does 
not afford suitable localities for the establishment 
of a defensive screen." 

The writer then enlarges on the merits of the 
defensive screen, and, now that his mind is 
occupied with the idea of defence, makes it 
perfectly clear that the rifle is absolute master 
of the situation for the patrols, troops, squadrons, 
or any other units of both belligerent parties. 
Your defensive screen acts by fire, and obviously, 
therefore, whoever tries to pierce your screen 
must act by fire. These pages reduce to nullity 
all the romantic hints elsewhere about the charg- 
ing patrol or squadron, with its " rude force " 
and its " determined " and " remorseless " attacks. 

And what of illustrations and examples from 
modern war ? Not one. Nothing but " specu- 
lative and theoretical reflection." For anyone 
who cares to study them, the facts are there 
plain, hard, incontrovertible, convincing facts. 


Sir John French knows all about the South 
African facts. Screens, on a small or great scale, 
were matters of daily experience. He himself, 
with a force of all arms, sustained a screen for 
two months primarily protective, but tactically 
offensive, as all screens must be in the Colesberg 
operations of November- January, 1899-1900. He 
knows perfectly well that lances and swords, for 
all the use made of them, might as well have been 
in store, and that the Cavalry engaged acted 
on precisely the same principles as the Colonial 
mounted riflemen engaged. 

During most of the operations from Bloem- 
fontein to Pretoria, and from Pretoria to Komati 
Poort, our great force of all arms was pitted 
against what (if we consider relative numbers) 
was little more than a mounted screen, and every 
day's operations exemplified the fighting prin- 
ciples involved. The rifle was the great ruling 
factor. If the rifleman had a horse, so much the 
better he was a more mobile rifleman ; but 
lances and swords were useless dead-weight. 
Precisely the same phenomena reappear in 
Manchuria. On the Japanese side much excellent 
screening work was done by Infantry, against 
whom the Cossack scouts and reconnoitring 
squadrons, trained solely to shock, were impotent. 
Infantry move slowly, but their rifle is a good 


rifle, and it is not the horse which fires it, but the 
man. No infantry patrol of any Army certainly, 
at any rate, of our own Army is afraid of the 
lances or swords of a Cavalry patrol. It is only 
strange paradox ! Cavalry patrols who are 
taught to fear the lances and swords of other 
Cavalry patrols. 

I am reminded here of some remarks made in 
a letter to the Times of March 26, 1910, by the 
military correspondent of that journal, whom I 
had respectfully reproached with having aban- 
doned his old hostility to shock. Cavalry patrols, 
unless they are to be " trussed chickens," must, 
he now said, have lances and swords in order, 
inter alia, to be able, when meeting other Cavalry 
patrols " in villages and lanes, or at the corner of 
some wood," to "tear the eyes out of" them ! 
These " OEdipean evulsions " form a picturesque 
improvement even on von Bernhardi's " rude 
force," and strike a decidedly happier note than 
the patrol " charging after due reflection." But 
why, I asked, could not the act be performed on 
even one single occasion in three years of war 
in South Africa ? Why not in one single recorded 
case in a year's war in Manchuria ? Well, one 
must admit that the " corner of the wood " was 
an ingenious touch. It suggested a close, blind, 
wooded district of England, so prohibitive of 


shock in large bodies and for that reason so un- 
like South Africa and Manchuria. Yet there were 
many similar obstacles in both those regions : 
there were hundreds of villages ; there were 
hills, mountains, ravines, dongas, sharp rocky 
ridges, river-beds, clumps of bush and trees, 
farm buildings ; there were the great tracts of 
bush-veldt in the Transvaal, the tall millet of 
Northern Manchuria, and so on quite enough, 
certainly, to lead to the tearing out of the eyes 
of at least one careless scout or patrol. Colonel 
Repington knows these facts as well as I do, and 
once more, in view of his great and deservedly 
great influence on contemporary thought, I beg 
him to return to his earlier manner, and speak 
once more in his old slashing style about the 
futility of " classic charges and prehistoric 
methods." After all, this is the very language 
used by von Bernhardi, whom, in the letter I 
have been alluding to, Colonel Repington de- 
scribed as a " very eminent authority." 

I have the letter before me, and it is with a 
somewhat grim satisfaction that I observe the 
Nemesis which overtakes publicists who are rash 
enough to recant opinions founded on national 
experience and confirmed by the most recent facts 
of war. It was written just before von Bern- 
hardi's book was published, and a large part of it 


took the form of an eulogy on the German 
Cavalry, whom he defended hotly from my 
charge of " sentimental conservatism," whose 
new regulations about fire-action he quoted with 
admiring approval, and whose revivification he 
distinctly associated with the name of that 
" very eminent authority " General von Bern- 
hardi. The very eminent authority spoke a few 
weeks later, and said that his " writings had 
fallen on barren soil." His language about the 
sentimental conservatism of the present German 
Cavalry beggared any I had used. He made his 
own Colonel Repington's epithet " prehistoric " ; 
his phrase " old-fashioned knightly combats " 
is surely an adequate counterpart to " classic 
charges "; in many a passage of biting invective 
he deplores as literal truth at the present moment 
what Colonel Repington scouted as a libellous 
myth invented by me namely, that in peace 
manoeuvres " solid lines of steel-clad Cavalry are 
led across open plains " ; and, as I have shown, 
he regards as utterly unprepared for war a 
Cavalry which Colonel Repington holds up as 
an example to his British readers of " the best 
modern Cavalries," and which, if we do not 
imitate their methods, would, he thinks, in the 
event of a war, tear the eyes out of ours. As to 
fire-action, perhaps Colonel Repington had not 


studied the German Regulations with a very 
critical eye before he praised them to the point 
of asking, "Could Botha or Delarey or DeWet 
ask for more ?" In the light of von Bernhardi's 
strictures and of his still stranger alternatives, 
the topic, I am sure, will need different handling 
if Colonel Repington returns to it. 

Finally, I repeat once more that, for English- 
men, one of the best practical criteria of the steel 
theory, in regard both to reconnaissance and 
battle functions, lies in the existence of our 
Mounted Infantry force. Their revised Manual 
(1909), reticent and incomplete as it is sometimes 
in the interests of the sacred shock theory, is, 
in effect, a crushing indictment of that theory. 
They are trained to do precisely the same work 
as the Cavalry. They are not only to act as 
purely divisional mounted troops, but, like the 
German divisional Cavalry, are intended to co- 
operate with and, in circumstances which must 
constantly happen, act as substitutes for the 
Independent Cavalry. This is criminal folly if, 
from the lack of a sword or lance, they are 
"trussed chickens," whose morale, in the words 
of Colonel Repington, will be " destroyed " by 
steel-armed Cavalry. Thank Heaven, they listen 
with indifference to this language language which 
would indeed be calculated to destroy the morale 


of any force with less self-respect and less splendid 
war traditions behind it. They know in their 
hearts that their methods are in reality not 
despised but feared by Continental Cavalry, for 
the reasons frankly and honestly set forth by 
General von Bernhardi. Their leaders now are 
the sole official repositories of what is really our 
great national tradition for mounted troops in 
civilized war ; for the steel tradition is a legend 
dating from Balaclava, a battle which is scarcely 
more relevant to modern needs than Crecy and 
Crecy, by the way, was one of the greatest of all 
the historic triumphs of missile weapons over 
shock. It was not the lack of swords and lances, 
but the possession of swords and lances, which 
tended to turn men into " trussed chickens " in 
South Africa and Manchuria. It was the rifle 
in both cases which made Cavalry mobile and 
formidable. It is melancholy to think that our 
true principles and sound traditions of mounted 
warfare are embodied in so small a force, organized 
on such an illogical system, provided with a 
training of altogether inadequate length, and 
hampered by nominal subservience to a steel- 
armed Cavalry whose theories of action have 
been proved hi two long and bloody wars to be 
obsolete. . 

It is perhaps even more melancholy to see so 


many Yeomanry officers agitating for an oppor- 
tunity to ape the worst features of the Cavalry, 
while neglecting the best features of the very 
force whose exact tactical counterpart they are ; 
dreaming sentimental nonsense about Bredow's 
charge at Vionville, while under their eyes lie 
the pitiless records of idleness and failure on 
the part of those whose aim it was to imitate 
Bredow, and the still sadder story of the penalties 
paid in South Africa for inexperience in the rifle 
by the Yeomanry themselves. 

I sometimes wonder if Houndsditch will open 
the eyes of the public to the unrealities of Cavalry 
manoeuvre. How many Cavalry, condemned to 
remain in their saddles, would it take to disable 
or capture a patrol of determined men using 
automatic pistols (to say nothing of magazine 
rifles) either in a " village or lane or at the 
corner of some wood," or on the rolling downs 
of Salisbury or Lambourne ? 


("Die Feuenvaffe beherrscht die Taktik") 


" THE rifle (or literally, the firearm) rules tactics." 
The phrase was originally my own, but the 
General has done me the honour of adopting and 
sanctioning it, and I may fitly bring this criticism 
of his writings to a conclusion by briefly noting 
the occasion and origin of this remarkable admis- 
sion. My book, " War and the Arme Blanche," 
was published in March, 1910, a month before 
the publication in England of his own second 
work, " Cavalry in War and Peace," whose con- 
sideration we have just concluded. In the course 
of the summer of 1910 the General published a 
series of articles in the Militar Wocheriblatt criti- 
cizing my book, and those articles were trans- 
lated and printed in the Cavalry Journal of 
October, 1910. 

The critic covers limited ground. He makes 
no rejoinder or allusion of any sort to my own 



chapter of detailed criticism upon his own earlier 
work, " Cavalry in Future Wars." He scarcely 
notices my discussion of the Manchurian War. 
He confines himself almost wholly to the South 
African War, and makes it plain (1) that his 
knowledge of that war is exceedingly deficient ; 
(2) that his principal explanation for the com- 
parative failure of our Regular Cavalry hi that 
war was that they were timidly led ; (3) that he 
had misunderstood the nature of the case which 
I had endeavoured to construct against the arme 
blanche, and that, so far as he did understand it, 
he agreed with my conclusions. 

1. Internal evidence shows what one would 
naturally infer from the extraordinary concep- 
tions of the technique of fire-action for mounted 
troops developed in his book that the General * 
has never studied closely the combats of our war, 
except, perhaps, in such publications as the 
German Official History, which leaves off at 
March, 1900, practically ignores the mounted 
question, regards the Boers throughout as In- 
fantry (presumably because, though mounted, 

* Note, for example, his reiteration of the phrase, whose 
falsity anyone can demonstrate, that the Boers showed " no 
offensive power," with the implied inference, never explicitly 
worked out, but left in the realm of vague insinuation, that 
this failure was in some way connected with their lack of 
lances and swords, weapons which they would not have taken 
at a gift, and could not have used if they had had them. 


they did not carry lances and swords), and, as a 
result of this method of exposition, is of no value 
towards the present controversy. Unfamiliar with 
the phenomena of our war, the General neverthe- 
less taunts me, who argued solely from the facts 
of war and went not an inch beyond the facts, 
with being a " speculative theorist " -a, taunt 
which comes strangely from an author who 
declares in his current volume (p. 7) that " the 
groundwork of training " for modern Cavalry can 
only be created from " speculative and theoretical 
reflection." He proceeds further to obliterate my 
humble personality by remarking that I am 
" naturally devoid of all war experience," and 
that he would never have taken the trouble to 
discuss the subject at all if Lord Roberts had 
not declared his agreement with what I had 
written. The personal point, of course, is wholly 
immaterial, and I welcome his perfectly correct 
choice of an opponent. But his spontaneous allu- 
sion to war experience raises a somewhat impor- 
tant point. Until reading the words, I had never 
dreamed that my own war experience was a serious 
factor in the discussion. I have never alluded to 
it or argued from it ; but since the point is raised, 
let me say to General von Bernhardi that, in 
common with some hundreds of thousands of my 
countrymen here or in the Colonies, I have had, 


in a very humble capacity, a certain kind of war 
experience, of which he, as a reflective theorist, 
stands in bitter need. We have seen the modern 
rifle at work in what he calls "real war." We 
have seen what he has only reflected about and 
imagined the revolution wrought by it on the 
battle-field since the days of 1870. He has not ; 
and if he had, he would have avoided many of the 
painful solecisms and blunders which disfigure his 
work, enlightened as that work is by comparison 
with the retrograde school he attacks. 

2. TIMID LEADING. The Boers, says the 
General, were a " peasant militia," who were 
" tied to their ox-waggons," " incapable of 
assuming the offensive on a large scale," in " dis- 
appearing smaller numbers against greatly superior 
numbers," " not often strong enough either to 
charge the English Cavalry or to attack the 
English Infantry," " directed by halting leader- 
ship," and so on altogether, according to the 
General's standards, a most contemptible foe, 
hardly worthy of the steel of a respectable pro- 
fessional Cavalry, and certainly not the kind of 
foe to force such a Cavalry to abandon its tradi- 
tional form of combat. But there was the rub. 
Our Cavalry, it seems, was even more con- 
temptible. They " made no relentless pursuits, 
despite the lack of operative mobility in the 


enemy "; " they did not attack even when they 
had the opportunity "; and " one could scarcely 
find a European Cavalry which was tied down to 
such an extent during the big operations as the 
Boers, or one which, against such little resistance, 
did not try to overcome it as the English." He 
cites the action of Dronfield,* where Sir John 
French was in command, as a specific instance, 
and in as plain language as it is possible to use 
without penning the word " cowardice," accuses 
the Cavalry present of that unpardonable crime. 
" Mr. Childers," he remarks with perfect truth, 
" relates the story without any spite to show the 
little value of English Cavalry equipment and 
training. / think it shows much beside.' "f (The 
italics are mine.) 

I do not know if this kind of thing will finally 
compel Sir John French to examine more 

* See " War and the Arme Blanche," pp. 113-115. 

f Conscious, apparently, of the gross personal discour- 
tesy to Sir John French, he adds that " since General French 
was there, lack of energy cannot be imputed to the attack." 
This not only stultifies what precedes, but is untrue. The 
attack was painfully unenergetic ; nobody has denied it. 
The point is that the lack of energy was due to the fact that 
the Cavalry were not armed and trained for such an occasion. 
Of their three weapons, two, the lance and the sword, were 
useless, and the third was a trumpery little carbine, which 
in peace theory had been regarded as an almost negligible 
part of their equipment. What they needed was the fire- 
spirit, a serious firearm, and training in mobile fire-tactics. 


thoroughly the foundations of his own belief in 
the lance and sword, and to apply more searching 
criticism to the works of the " acknowledged 
authority " whom he lauds to the skies as a model 
and Mentor for British Cavalrymen. I should hope 
that, on their behalf, he now resents as hotly as 
I resent the contemptuous patronage of an officer 
holding and expressing the view that " any 
European Cavalry " and he afterwards expressly 
names the German Cavalry would have shown 
more aggressive spirit in South Africa than our 
own more aggressive spirit, be it understood, 
with the lance and sward ; for if that be not the 
meaning, the General's lengthy appreciation of 
the worth and exploits of the rival forces in South 
Africa is, hi its context, as part of a hostile 
criticism of my work, either destructive of his 
own argument or meaningless. Sir John French 
refuses to read through British eyes the plain 
moral of the war for Cavalry. This is his reward, 
and it is of no use to pretend that he does not 
deserve it. Anyone who throws the dearly- 
bought experience of his own countrymen to the 
winds, and runs to foreigners who have no rele- 
vant experience for corroboration of an outworn 
creed, gratuitously courts the same humiliation. 

Perhaps I make too much of a point of pride. 
Let Sir John French at any rate see the amusing 


side of the situation. He has set forth* his own 
four reasons for the failure of the lance and sword 
in South Africa: (1) The lightning speed of the 
Boers in running away from combat a habit 
which left our Cavalry nothing even to recon- 
noitre ; (2) the fact that our military object was 
nothing less than the complete conquest and 
annexation of the enemy's country ; (3) that, 
owing to the release of prisoners who fought 
again against us, we had to contend with double 
the number of men nominally allowed for ; 
(4) the condition of the horses. 

The last factor the German author does not 
pretend to take seriously as an explanation of 
the failure of the Cavalry ; and with regard to the 
first three his view, as far as it receives clear 
expression, is diametrically the reverse of that of 
Sir John French. So far from alleging that the 
Boers " dispersed for hundreds of miles when 
pressed," he dwells repeatedly on the immobility 
imposed by their ox-waggons, says that they were 
" tied down " to an unparalleled extent, and cen- 
sures the Cavalry for what he regards as their 
unparalleled slackness in attack against such a 
vulnerable and unenterprising enemy. So far 
from agreeing that there was " nothing to recon- 
noitre," he points out that the Cavalry " did not 
* See supra, pp. 17-27. 


understand reconnaissance by Cavalry patrols," 
a statement true enough in itself, but value- 
less without the reason namely, the mistaken 
armament and training of the Cavalry a reason 
which would, of course, have applied with in- 
finitely greater force to " any other European 
Cavalry," because no Cavalry but our own would 
have had the invaluable assistance of Colonial 
mounted riflemen, armed and trained correctly. 
So far from finding an excuse for the failure of 
the lance and sword in the fact that our aim was 
conquest and annexation, he appears in the last 
page of his article to argue that, had these 
weapons been used more " relentlessly," the 
British nation would not now be in what he 
evidently regards as the degrading situation of 
having Boers on a footing of political equality 
with British citizens ! Finally, so far from 
pleading the abnormal accretions to the Boer 
Army through he trelease of captured prisoners, 
he makes a particular point of our vast numerical 
superiority and of the " disappearing smaller 
numbers " of the enemy. 

But the climax comes when he coolly tells 
Sir John French that the German Cavalry, 
whose backwardness and " indolence " he con- 
demns in the very book which Sir John French 
sponsors, whom he regards as absolutely " un- 



prepared for war," whose " prehistoric " tactics, 
" old-fashioned knightly combats," " antiquated 
Regulations," and " tactical orgies," he is at this 
moment satirizing, would, twelve years ago, with 
still more antiquated Regulations, with still less 
education, and with a far worse armament, 
have taught the Boer peasants lessons with the 
steel which our faint-spirited Cavalry could not 
teach them ! All patriotic feelings apart, and 
merely as a military experiment, one would like 
to have seen the German Uhlans of 1899, with 
their popgun carbine and Frederician traditions, 
and without a vestige of aid, inspiration or 
example from Colonial or Mounted Infantry 
sources, tackling the Boers at Talana or Zand 
River, at Colenso, Diamond Hill, or Magers- 
fontein, at Ladysmith or Sannah's Post, at 
Roodewal or Bakenlaagte. At the last two 
episodes the General is quite certain that they 
would have done far more marvellous feats with 
the steel by means of an old-fashioned knightly 
combat than the Boers did with the rifle. 

Serious students of land-war, anxious only to 
elucidate the purely technical question as to 
whether horsemen in modern days can fight 
effectively on horseback with steel weapons, look 
on in amazed bewilderment, while high authorities 
on the affirmative side conspire to render them- 


selves and one another ridiculous by dragging in 
political, psychological, strategical, and even lyrical 
factors which have nothing whatever to do with 
the simple issue of combat. There, as I have 
often said, is the reader's clue through the laby- 
rinth of contradictions. Neither Sir John French 
nor General von Bernhardi ever really discusses at 
all the real point at issue. That is why they 
succeed in agreeing upon it, while differing radi- 
cally in their logical processes. As the reader 
probably realizes now, nearly everything the 
latter General writes is either susceptible of two 
constructions or is subject to subsequent qualifi- 
cation. This critical essay on the opinions of 
Lord Roberts and on my book, " War and the 
Arme Blanche," is only another illustration of the 
same mental habit. Though he is explicit enough 
on what he regards as the feeble initiative of the 
British Army in general and the British Cavalry 
in particular, he never attempts to trace any 
direct causal connection between this topic and 
the topic of the lance or sword. He dare not. 
Remote insinuation is his only weapon. Yet, for 
the purposes of his article, that specific link is the 
only thing worth talking about. So far as he 
does touch the question of physical combat as, 
for example, where he says that the Boers 
" fought entirely with the rifle, and this the 


mounted, troops of England had to learn," " that 
the Boers were far superior in the fire-fight," that 
the absence of " Cavalry duels " in South Africa 
was caused (mark this delioiously naive admis- 
sion) by the fact of the armament and the numeri- 
cal weakness of the Boers " he is on my side. 
And I need scarcely add that the reader will find 
it easy to demolish the General's whole dream of 
the lost opportunities of the lance and sword in 
South Africa or Manchuria, or of its golden 
chances in any future war, by passages from the 
General's own work, criticized in this volume, as 
when he implores his own Cavalry to remember 
that they may have to meet mounted riflemen, 
or even heterodox Cavalry, who, using their 
horses only as a means of mobility in the Boer 
fashion, will, in defiance of the German text- 
books, advance dismounted, and force the 
German troopers to do the same ; or when he 
lays down that the attack or defence of any 
" locality," entrenched or unen trenched, and by 
whomsoever defended or attacked, must be accom- 
plished through fire-action. It is true that the 
theoretical limitations he sets to fire-action, from 
sheer ignorance of what fire-action by mounted 
troops is, reduce that form of combat also to a 
nullity ; but on that point anyone can test his 
views by facts. Although it is quite possible to 


prove from his premisses, if their truth be postu- 
lated, that the South African War never took 
place at all, without going to the trouble of 
proving that it was " abnormal " in the matter 
of the futility of the lance and sword, we know 
that it did take place, why lances and swords 
were futile, and why fire was supreme. 

3. So in reality does General von Bernhardi 
himself, and in the title of this chapter is crystal- 
lized his explicit statement of the truth. Faithful 
to his habitual system of alternate adhesion to 
two incompatible theories, the General, after 
clearly enough condemning the British Cavalry 
for their timidity with the steel, makes the 
following remarkable volte face : 

" In one particular, however, I will own he [i.e., 
Mr. Childers] is correct : the firearm rules tactics. 
That is indisputable. Nobody can with the arme 
blanche compel an opponent on his side tactically 
to use the arme blanche." (This last is a very 
dark saying, for the Boers had no arme blanche ; 
but it does not affect the general sense.) " To 
the laws of the fire-fight everything must be sub- 
ordinated hi war." 

Well, that is precisely what Lord Roberts, the 
greatest soldier living, and many humbler per- 
sons, including myself, have contended for. 
Cadit qucestio. Why not have begun " Cavalry in 


War and Peace " with these illuminating axioms ? 
Why not have them placed in the forefront of our 
own Cavalry Manual, in the approaching revision 
of that important work ? Why give the dominat- 
ing operative weapon only 10 or 15 per cent, of 
the time of the Cavalry soldier, and make it 
officially subordinate to steel weapons which 
can only be used by its indulgence ? But I am 
going a little too fast. The General, as usual, 
has a qualification. What is it ? " But as a 
necessary corollary from this, to say that there 
can be no fight with the arme blanche is a mis- 
chievous sophism." Again we agree hi the 
sense, that is, in which the author now elects to 
use the phrase " arme blanche." For he means 
the bayonet. " Every Infantryman carries a 
bayonet, because he requires it for the assault. 
Even Lord Roberts will not take this away," 
etc. No ; and no one in the world, so far as I 
know, wants to take away the bayonet from the 
Infantryman. But, as I asked at page 121, 
what has the bayonet got to do with the lance 
and sword ? The bayonet is fixed to the rifle, 
and used on foot as an element hi fire-tactics. 
The lance and sword are used from horseback in 
tactics which are diametrically opposite to and 
absolutely incompatible with fire-tactics, and 
everv word Lord Roberts or I have written has 


been directly aimed against this antiquated 
system of fighting on horseback with the lance 
and sword. If the Cavalryman, because, by 
universal consent, he has constantly to do work 
similar to that of Infantry, requires a bayonet, 
by all means give it to him. I discussed the 
question in my previous book, and ventured to 
regard it as an open one, for reasons which I 
need not repeat now. But I over and over again 
took pains to point out the fundamental distinc- 
tion between the bayonet and the lance and sword. 
On another point the General misrepresents me. 
Because I showed by illustration from war the 
marked physical and moral effects of rifle-fire 
from the saddle, he treats me as advancing the 
specific plan of substituting rifle-fire on horseback 
for the use of the lance and sword on horseback in 
what his translator calls the " collision of the 
mounted fight " (Handgemenge zu Pferde). This 
is a perversion of my meaning. The collisions he 
is thinking of are obsolete. Though I think that 
for all conceivable purposes a pistol would be 
better than a lance or sword, I adhered to the 
facts, and pointed out that saddle-fire in South 
Africa was used before contact, and that in order 
to consummate their destructive rifle-charges, the 
Boers dismounted, either at close quarters or 
within point-blank range. 



I wish to lay special stress on these two mis- 
representations, because both have been also 
made by our own General Staff. In a review of 
my previous book, whose general fairness and 
courtesy I gladly recognize, the Monthly Notes of 
July, 1910, took exactly the same erroneous points, 
and, for the rest, adopted the strange course of 
ruling out all the remarkable South African charges 
with the rifle by quietly assuming that they would 
have been done better with the sword or lance. 

He takes as an example the action of Baken- 
laagte, and convinces himself that Cavalry " as 
ably led " would, by sticking persistently to their 
saddles, have done better with the steel than the 
Boers who inflicted such terrible punishment 
with their rifles upon Benson's brave and seasoned 
troops. This is an unintentional slur not only 
upon Benson's men but upon our Cavalry, who, 
on the reviewer's assumption, ought certainly to 
have inflicted similar punishment upon the Boers 
on scores of occasions where the tactical conditions 
were approximately the same as those at Baken- 
laagte. The reviewer arbitrarily begins his im- 
aginary parallel at the moment at which Botha's 
final charge started, and pictures the steel-trained 
troops already in full career like the fire-trained 


troops who actually made the charge. War is not 
so easy as all that. He ignores the characteristi- 
cally clever fire-tactics which for hours before had 
been leading up to the requisite situation, and 
forgets that steel-trained troops would never have 
had the skill or insight to produce and utilize that 
situation. Moreover, their training Manual not 
only does not contemplate, but renders prohibitive 
any such instantaneous transition from fire to 
shock as would have been required. But the 
reviewer surpasses himself when, having trium- 
phantly brought his steel-trained troops through 
the preparatory phase and the charging phase 
(with the incidental riding down and capture of 
several detached bodies of men), he pictures them 
confronted with the objective ultimately charged 
namely, Benson's rearguard of guns and rifle- 
men on Gun Hill. These men had had just time 
to rally, and were lined out on a long ridge in open 
order and in splendid fighting fettle. Their fire 
hitherto had been masked by the rearmost sections 
of their own men, who were galloping in with the 
Boers at their heels. What the Boers now did 
was to fling themselves from their ponies, by 
instinct, in the dead ground below the ridge, and 
to charge up it on foot, where after a brief and 
desperate encounter they exterminated Benson's 
heroic rearguard and captured the guns. This 

actionihe reviewer regards as clumsy and dilatory. 
His Lancers, disdaining to dismount, would hare 
ridden up the hill painfully vulnerable targets 
for the rifles on the ridge and, arrived on the top, 
would either have gone riding about among the 
scattered defenders trying to impale with lances 
or reach with swords riflemen who would have 
laughed in their faces at this ineffectual method 
of fighting, or (and the reviewer favours this 
alternative) would have been content to impale a 
chance few en passant, and, without drawing rein, 
would have galloped on towards the main body 
and convoy, leaving " supporting squadrons," 
whom he coolly invents for the occasion (for the 
Boers had none), to "deal with" the rearguard 
in the knightly fashion aforesaid. Sweeping on, 
and again disdaining to dismount on reaching the 
next objective, our Lancers would have " spread 
havoc and consternation " among the convoy. 
Would they ? You cannot stampede or disable 
inspanned oxen and mules or their drivers by 
brandishing swords and lances. And surely one 
does not "charge" ox-waggons with those weapons. 
What you want for these occasions is the bullet, 
whether for beasts, drivers, or escort. By bitter 
experience of our own on only too many occasions 
we know all about the right way of spreading 
havoc and consternation among convoys. Lances 


and swords never produced these effects in a 
single case in three years. And the escort and 
main body ? Why, a few dozen steady men with 
rifles would turn the tables on, and, in their turn, 
spread havoc among a whole brigade of Lancers 
who insisted on remaining in their saddles. 

One falls, I must frankly admit, into profound 
discouragement when one meets arguments of 
this sort coming from a quarter where arguments 
lead to rules and regulations. It is quite true 
that this important review, in its moderate tone 
and in its tacit avowal that there was need of 
some reform hi the present regulations, bore no 
resemblance to the criticisms which proceeded from 
some individual Cavalry officers. There were in- 
dications reliable, I hope that the old knee- 
to-knee knightly shock-charge, now regarded 
officially as the " climax of Cavalry training," was 
doomed, and that the open-order charge with the 
steel, presumed to be analogous to the open-order 
charge with the rifle, was the utmost now con- 
templated. But in truth, as I pointed out in 
Chapters IV. and VI., there exists no such analogy, 
or the war would have demonstrated it. If such 
steel-charges were possible, our Cavalry had in- 
numerable chances of carrying them out under 
far more favourable conditions, owing to our per- 
manent numerical superiority, than the Boers 


ever obtained for their attacks, by the charge or 

The steel-charge, close or open, was the tradi- 
tional function of our Cavalry ; it was the only 
form of combat that they really understood when 
they landed in South Africa, and they were 
supremely efficient in it. The point is that in 
practice they could not charge with the steel, 
except in the rare and well-nigh negligible cases 
which are on record. They ceased altogether to 
try so to charge, because to fight with the steel 
on horseback was physically impossible. Their 
steel weapons were eventually returned to store 
on that account. And they profited by the 
resulting change of spirit, and by the acquisition, 
late as it came, of a respectable firearm. To say 
that the fire-charge invented and practised by the 
Boers as early as March, 1900, when lances and 
swords were still in the field, and imitated to 
some extent by our own Colonials and Mounted 
Infantry, could, after all, have been done as well 
and better with the lance and sword, is conjecture 
run mad. Sir John French has never used the 
argument. He could not, with any shadow of 
plausibility, combine it with his complaint about 
the lightning flights of the Boers and the absence 
of anything to reconnoitre. It is, I grant, the 
most impressive official testimonial ever given to 


the arme blanche, but it is not business. One 
might as well argue that the work done by 
Togo's torpedo-boats would have been done 
better by the beaks of triremes. We know and 
have seen what actually happened. We had 
nearly three years in which to arrive by experi- 
ment at tactical truths. In the name of common 
sense let us accept the results, especially when 
they are corroborated by the results of the other 
great modern war, that hi Manchuria. 


Directly or indirectly, I think that in the 
course of this volume I have replied to most of 
the criticisms which my previous book, " War 
and the Arme Blanche," drew forth. But I 
should like to make a brief reference to an in- 
teresting discussion of the subject conducted 
mainly by Cavalry officers on October 19, 1910, at 
the Royal United Service Institution. A reader 
of the report in the Journal of November, 1910, 
must feel that the proceedings would have gamed 
in clarity and harmony had von Bernhardi's 
belated maxim that the " firearm rules tactics " 
been made the basis of the debate. Strange things 
were said on the side of the arme blanche. One 
officer urged that Cavalry should not have a rifle 


that arbiter of tactics at all, should use shock 
alone, and should not be " frittered away as 
scouts." Another complained that, hi arguing 
mainly from the South African and Manchurian 
Wars, I " could not have selected two worse 
examples." I am not to blame. It is not a case 
of selection. These are the only great civilized 
wars since the " revolution " (to use von Bern- 
hardi's phrase) wrought by modern firearms. 

The close-order shock-charge has never even 
been tried or contemplated hi civilized war since 
1870, and even then it was moribund. Yet the 
lecturer argued from Waterloo, and, unconscious 
of the slight upon his Arm, was at great pains to 
claim that even now Cavalry kept in reserve for 
the occasion could attack two-year conscripts 
who had already been reduced to " pulp " by 
several days of fire and fatigue. " //," he said, 
" they could stick their lances into quite a large 
proportion," the rest " would have the most 
marked reluctance to remain upon the ground." 
Perhaps. Von Bernhardi also claims that Infantry, 
who under stress of fire have reached the point of 
throwing away their arms, may be attacked suc- 
cessfully with the steel. Let us allow the claim, 
only remarking that experience shows a rifle to be 
a far more destructive weapon for such circum- 
stances than a lance or sword. But, instead of 


idly awaiting these not very glorious oppor- 
tunities for the steel, would it not be better for the 
Cavalry to be mobile and busy from the first in 
using the same formidable weapon which origin- 
ally reduced the Infantry to pulp, using it hi that 
limitless sphere of envelopment, interception, and 
surprise to which the possession of horses gives 
them access ? 

Another extraordinary feature of the dis- 
cussion was the dissociation of moral effect from 
killing effect by some of the Cavalry officers 
present, who really seemed to think that riflemen 
hi war are afraid of horses, irrespective of weapons, 
whereas in fact they welcome so substantial a 
target for their rifles, and fear only the rider's 
weapon in direct proportion to its deadliness. 
These officers were convinced that their Arm, 
trained to charge as it now is, exercises great 
moral effect, yet they agreed that the importance 
of killing the enemy with the steel is at present 
neglected, and that the art of so killing is not 
even taught. The lecturer argued that our 
Cavalry would be a " more terrifying weapon than 
it is at present " if every trooper could be brought 
to " understand that he has to stick his sword or 
lance into the body of his opponent." Another 
officer urged that " each horseman in a charge 
should be taught that he must kill at least one 


adversary " ; and the Chairman strongly empha- 
sized " the necessity of training the men to kill." 
" The reason," he said, " that a man had a sword 
or spear was to kill." The truth is that some arts 
perish from disuse. This art cannot be exercised 
in war, so wars come and go, and the very tra- 
dition of its exercise disappears, and in peace 
is replaced, as the Chairman said, by " piercing 
yells " and the " waving of swords." 

A Horse Artillery officer threw a bombshell 
into the debate by complaining that his Arm was 
often forbidden at manoeuvres to open fire on the 
hostile Cavalry masses (vide supra, pp. 127 and 131), 
in order to allow the collision to take place on 
"favourable ground," and asked for guidance. 
The Chairman replied that the Artillery could be 
trusted to be " loyal." But can they, in this 
particular matter ? Let us hope not. 

A small minority ably upheld the case against the 
arme blanche, and the discussion, as a whole, was 
of considerable value. General Sir R. S. Baden- 
Powell went to the root of the matter when he con- 
fessed that a " policy had never properly been laid 
down " for the Cavalry, and that they " wanted 
a policy to begin with before they commenced 
training." That is the literal truth, and I hope 
to have proved that no rational, clear, consistent 
policy ever will be laid down until the rifle is 


made in peace-theory what it already is in war- 
practice the dominant, all-important weapon of 
Cavalry and until the axiom that the rifle rules 
tactics is accepted and systematically acted upon. 
I claim that von Bernhardi's writings, and the 
manner of their acceptance in this country, prove 
conclusively that that is the condition precedent 
to a sound policy. He has no policy ; we have 
no policy. We have not even a terminology 
suitable to modern conditions. 

I believe it correct also to say that the principal 
cause of the persistence of the arme blanche theory 
in this country is its retention by foreign Cavalries 
who are without war experience, and who, on 
account of its retention, are backward in every 
department of their science. 

In Sir John French's words, we try to assimi- 
late the best foreign customs, and we choose 
for assimilation the very customs which we our- 
selves have proved in war to be not only valueless, 
but vicious. 

I have not thought it worth while to deal with 
other Continental Cavalries. In the matter of 
the lance and sword, the Austrian and French 
Cavalries may be regarded as more backward 
than the German. Both would regard von Bern- 
hardi as a fanatical heretic. Count Wrangel, for 
the Austrians, states that it is impossible to 



train Cavalry to the use of two weapons so dif- 
ferent as the sword and the rifle, and, in deciding 
for the former, frankly admits that, after the 
experience of Manchuria, Cavalry have no busi- 
ness within the zone of fire. The views and 
practice of the French Cavalry may be learnt 
from the scathing exposure to which they have 
been submitted by General de Negrier. Our 
Cavalry, excessive as its reliance on the steel is, 
stands, of course, in the matter of fire-action, 
ahead of all Continental rivals. 

Relying too much on foreign practice in peace, 
we also exaggerate foreign exploits in bygone wars 
where conditions were radically different . I scarcely 
think it too much to say, after a close study of 
the criticisms of my book, that, if one could only 
succeed in proving to present-day Cavalrymen 
that von Bredow's charge at Vionville was not a 
valid precedent for modern war, more than half 
the battle for rational armament and tactics 
would be won. Quite half my critics threw that 
famous charge in my teeth, and some accused 
me of not even knowing about it, since I had not 
mentioned it. Why should I have mentioned it ? 
I was not aware at the time I wrote that it was 
seriously accepted as relevant to present con- 
ditions. Von Bernhardi, whom I was taking as 
a representative of the most enlightened Cavalry 


views on the subject of the steel-charge, does not 
mention it in either of his works, and in his first 
work went to some trouble to show how the 
German and French Cavalry at Mars-la-Tour 
frittered away tune and opportunity by hanging 
about in masses which " mutually paralyzed " 
one another, instead of using golden chances for 
fire-action. He expressly says that the war of 
1870 " presents a total absence of analogy," and, 
as I showed above (p. 140), his own limitations 
for the steel-charge in modern war absolutely 
preclude the possibility of any such charge being 
repeated. Those limitations have for long been 
accepted by Cavalry in this country also hi 
theory. But the immortal fascination of that 
charge ! Next door to von Bernhardi's article 
on my book hi the Cavalry Journal of October, 
1910, is an interesting descriptive account of it, 
with maps. And the author ends thus : " The 
days of Cavalry are not over. For they ' can 
ride rapidly into the danger that Infantry can 
only walk into.' ' These two little sentences 
typify perfectly, I believe, the state of mind of 
those who cling to the arme blanche out of senti- 
ment and without scientific justification. No- 
body supposes that the days of Cavalry are over. 
Far from being weakened, Cavalry, if properly 
equipped and trained, have potentialities im- 


mensely greater than the Cavalry of 1870, be- 
cause they now possess in our country at any 
rate the weapon which, united with the horse, 
qualifies them to tackle any other Arm on their 
own terms. And as the writer of this article 
truly says, they can ride into the danger that 
Infantry can only walk into. South Africa 
proves that, to a certain point. But, alas ! that is 
not the moral that the writer means to draw. He 
forgets that the rifle of 1870 is, as I remarked 
before, a museum curiosity, and that, feeble as 
it was, it nearly cut to pieces Bredow's regiments 
on their return from the charge. He draws 
the wrong moral that Cavalry can still make 
charges by remaining indefinitely in their saddles 
and wielding steel weapons from their saddles. 
In that sense the days of Cavalry are indeed over. 
Nobody should regret it. What is there to 
regret ? 

But let me repeat one last caution. It is a 
harmful result of this otherwise healthy con- 
troversy that we tend to argue too much in 
terms of the " charge," meaning the mounted 
charge, culminating in a fight at close quarters, 
or even in a melee. For all we know, future 
science, by making it a sheer impossibility to get 
so large an object as a horse through a fire-zone, 
may eventually render such an attack by horse- 


men, in whatever formation and with whatever 
weapon, altogether impracticable. What will 
there be to regret in that ? Sailors do not mourn 
over the decay of the cutlass and the ram. So 
long as we win, it does not matter whether or not 
we charge on horseback, or how near we can ride 
to the objective before we begin the fire-fight. 
And, come what will, the horse, by the correct use 
of ground and surprise, will always be a priceless 
engine of strategical and tactical mobility. 


THE moral is simple and inspiring self-reliance, 
trust in our own experience, as confirmed by the 
subsequent experience of others. By all means 
let us borrow what is good from foreigners, and 
I should be the last to deny that, on topics un- 
connected with combat and weapons, there are 
many valuable hints to be obtained from General 
von Bernhardi's writings, and those of other 
foreign Cavalrymen. But let us not borrow what 
is bad, nor lose ourselves in the fog which 
smothers his Cavalry principles, when our own 
road to reform is plain. 

Some measure of reform, if report is true, is to 
take shape in the next revision of the Cavalry 
Manual. I end, as I began, with expressing the 
hope that reform may be drastic. But reform 
cannot end with the Cavalry Manual. It is abso- 
lutely necessary to introduce clearness, con- 
sistency and harmony into the four Manuals : 
" Cavalry Training " (with its absurd postscript 


for Yeomanry), "Mounted Infantry Training," 
" Infantry Training," and " Combined Training." 
At present the contradictions between these official 
Manuals is a public scandal. But I suggest that 
the task of reconstruction is absolutely impossible 
unless the basis taken be that fire, by whomsoever 
employed, is absolute arbiter of tactics, and that 
the Cavalryman is for practical purposes a com- 
pound of three factors man, horse, and rifle. 

The lance should go altogether. Whether the 
sword is retained, as the American Cavalry re- 
tain it, rather as a symbol than as a factor in 
tactics, or is dispensed with altogether, as our 
divisional mounted troops and our Colonial 
mounted riflemen dispense with it, is a matter 
of very small moment, provided that the correct 
principle be established and worked out in 
practice. It was because I doubted the possi- 
bility of establishing the correct principle in this 
country without abolition that in my previous 
book I advocated abolition, on the precedent 
of the South African War. The adoption of a 
bayonet or a sword-bayonet is, in my own humble 
opinion, an interesting open question. 










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Los Angeles 
This book is DUE on the last date stamped below. 

JUN 1 9 1951 


Form L9 15m-10,'48(B1039)444 




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